For Your Heart Peace

A Word from Heart & Peace Counselor Solimar Marin

The Ebbing and Flowing of Loss and Grief, Part 2

Where do I go? How do I heal from the death I died with him?
I can’t run far enough.
There is no place the pain is not...
The ache is so deep it wells up in my soul and crowds out all reason.
I seek You, Lord
From the depths of my despair and uncertainty.
Are You there?
Do You really care about my pain?

A Widow’s Lamentation, Patti McCarthy Broderick

Dr. Patti Broderick was my Clinical Supervisor during my last year of graduate school.  She lost her husband Mark, an F-16 pilot for the Air Force, during a training mission when his plane crashed.  At the time of his death, both were in their early 30’s, had three small children (5, 3, and 1 years of age) and a life full of dreams and hopes together.  In her book, “He Said, ‘Press’: Hearing God Through Grief”, Dr. Broderick, shares her journey through loss and grief with honesty and raw transparency.  Her words are poignant giving us an inside look to the heart of grief: deep sorrow. 

Pain and sorrow: the common thread in the human experience of loss.  Even though loss and grief are so common, as society, we still wrestle with the notion of what it means to grieve.  Moreover, this culture often ignores grief in an attempt to avoid facing the reality that it is painful.  Along the years, many have described grief in terms of stages, phases or tasks.  Their efforts have provided a helpful roadmap.  Still, grief is elusive, and it resists any attempt to be reduced to narrow definitions.  The best we can do is outline some characteristics of grief to serve us as guideposts of the process.

 

  1. Grief has many layers to it.

Grief is like an onion: multilayered.  The onion metaphor provides a useful way of understanding the way in which grief shows up.  Layer after layer: grief is an unraveling process.  Each layer represents the interplay between our emotional life, the way we think about ourselves, the world, and other people.  They also account for our relationships, spirituality and biology.

We can expect grief’s expression to change over time.  Take the example of an 8-year-old girl who loses her mother.  The event of loss might have occurred when she was 8 years of age.  However, the process of grief (her response to the loss) would most likely last for her entire lifetime.  The girl will re-grieve this profound loss over and over as she grows older and is able to think about the world in more mature and complex ways.  She will experience the loss in different ways at different stages of her life.  Some people talk about “having closure” or “letting go” as the final goal or resolution point of loss and grief.   However, when it comes to grieving, there is no such thing as closure:

"Grief changes and morphs over time. We get stronger as we carry it, the edges of it round and dull, and with time it begins to take up less space in our lives. It doesn’t simply disappear… We move forward with life, embracing the fullness of it, even as our loss becomes part of who we now are.” (Long, 2015)

 

  1. Grief is personal.

Grief does not lend itself to “cookie-cutter” definitions.   Every person grieves in their own unique way.  There is not a right or wrong way to go about grieving.  We have to make room for people to express their pain and suffering following their own path and timeline.  It has been said that grief is “the price we pay for love.”  Well, we all have different love languages.  In the same fashion, we can expect people to have different grief languages.   

Grief can be affected by factors such as: gender, culture, personality and temperament.  Differences in grieving styles have been described as intuitive and instrumental grief.  In a nutshell, an intuitive style of grieving is associated with an open expression of feelings that can be described as coming in waves of powerful emotions.  For these individuals moving forward in their healing journey involves being able to express and explore their feelings.  Whereas, people that grieve instrumentally, present a more quiet and inward-oriented style of managing their emotions.  They usually express their grief by doing something.  Again, these are just different styles of expression; not fixed patterns.  One person can move from one expression to another in different stages of their journey.

 

  1. Grief is not a straight-line process.

Grief is messy. It does not follow a 1-2-3 step formula.  Yes, it can show up in stages of denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance.  These stages serve the purpose of bringing a sense of order and understanding to a chaotic process.  However, these proposed stages should not be taken as a one size fits all prescription. 

Grieving people do not go through these stages in a fixed order.   Depending on what is happening in our lives, for instance, significant moments like holidays, anniversaries and birthdays, we might feel a coming wave of loneliness and isolation or depression.  Or, we might experience a beautiful sunrise, and feel a wave of acceptance and gratitude.  Even a glimmer of hope. 

In all likeness, grieving will find each of us without a clue of what is coming next.  Just when you thought you were coming out of the woods; pain comes back stronger.

 

  1. Grief can be isolating.

The pain and suffering that come with loss and grief can render anyone speechless.  Without words to express what the soul feels, grief, can distance us from others.  We might feel as if time has frozen and the world has stopped.  We might feel numb, detached, or even angry at other people going about their everyday lives when ours has just been shattered.  These are normal reactions to loss, and we need to face them with self-compassion and acceptance.  Some people need time alone to freely express their emotions and find some solace.  Those around should honor that need and be willing to provide a safe space of privacy while remaining a loving presence for the grieving person.  The power of community is essential to break feelings of loneliness and isolation.

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, first I want to say, no words are enough to comfort your broken heart.  Second, I want you to know there is no right or wrong way to grieve.  You are free to feel the pain and hurt of your loss.  Know that you are loved.

***
If you or someone you know need help dealing with grief or managing a loss, seek the support of a trusted friend, visit a grief support group or consult with a mental health professional.


The Ebb and Flow of Loss and Grief, Part 1

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear."
                                                                       C.S. Lewis

Loss and grief.  How can these two short words carry such a profound emotional, physiological and psychological weight?  I invite you to stay connected as we navigate through the waters of loss and grief in this series of posts.  Are you on board?

When you have not been acquainted with loss, usually the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word is the thought of losing someone dear to your heart.  Perhaps because that which we most treasure is what we are most afraid of losing.  However, when you have experienced heart-wrenching loss, hearing the word could evoke waves of pain, anger, loneliness, emptiness, a deep longing … so strong they threaten to swipe you into the oceans deep of your soul.  A huge gaping hole in the heart that finds no closure.

Any attempt to put into words what a grieving heart feels will be insufficient.  I only know that whatever a heart shattered by loss and grief feels needs to be honored and respected.  Now, loss not only happens by dying but also by virtue of living.  Loss is quotidian.  Mostly inevitable.  Usually disruptive.  Definitely painful.  Big or small, loss hurts, and we don’t like it.   Society in general has trained us to despise losing.  No one likes to be thought of as a “loser” or to be in the company of one regarded as such.  The irony is that being alive in this broken world means that we all, at some point or another, will become “losers”.  Life is made up of relationships to people, things, hopes, dreams, and expectations- all of which are at risk of being lost or shattered.  In this sense, all of us are experiencing, have experienced or are in the way to experience some kind of loss. 

Norman Wright, a Christian psychologist, says: “any event that destroys a person’s understanding of the meaning of life is felt as a loss”.   Some events in life can be easily identified as losses- the death of a loved one, a divorce, when you are robbed, financial loss, the loss of a house due to bankruptcy, your car being stolen-.  However, Wright explains, most of life losses go “unrecognized” and “unaddressed”.

Let’s consider some of those subtler losses: a moving family, kids changing schools, a student going off to college, a rejection letter from your dream college, a pet that dies, an empty-nester mom/dad, infertility, miscarriage, abortion, a denied promotion, a long awaited raise, the loss of health to chronic illness, the loss of youth, dreams that never materialized, unmet expectations and hopes, loss of identity, church divisions, a broken relationship with a friend, a child that grows up in an abusive home, the elder left alone to care for him/herself.  And the list goes on.

Sadly, the subtlety of some of these losses leaves us unaware of the cry in our souls.  This lack of awareness prevents a necessary process of grief.  See, loss and grief are interwoven, like light and shadow.  If we think of loss as an event, grief can be understood as the emotional response to it.  And right there, in the depth of our souls lies its complexity.  Some have described grief as “a pain so deep that it can’t be spoken … a pain that goes on and on.” (https://www.loveliveson.com/thank-you-a-grief-definition-that-gets-it/). 

Although there is not a single definition of grief, we can understand it as an expected and natural emotional response to loss or change of any kind.  Grief can cause deep sorrow and keen mental distress.  The following are some important points that describe the process of grief broadly.  I will only mention them now but will be discussing each in my next post.

  1. Grief is multilayered.
  2. Grief is very personal and unique to each individual.
  3. Grief is a process and it takes time- it is not linear
  4. Grief can be isolating.
  5. Grief can be transformative.

The sobering human reality of loss and grief begs for acceptance of a shared vulnerability.  An understanding that embraces its rawness, messiness and unpredictability.  It would do us good -even though it won’t make it easier - to look at loss and grief as a unifying thread in the narrative of our lives.  Our humanity so embraced and welcomed that it opens the door to togetherness in the pain and closes it to denial and shame. 

***
If you or someone you know need help dealing with grief or managing a loss, seek the support of a trusted friend, visit a grief support group or consult with a mental health professional.


To schedule an appointment with Solimar, call her at 407-360-7086 for a 10 minute free consultation.

For more information about Solimar and the Heart Peace Counseling Center, click here.