~ Turkish proverb
I have recently been reminded of grief in the lives of those around me. Grief always centers on a loss which one perceives as significant, though not always a human relationship. In addition to losing a loved one, we can grieve the loss of a job; a pet; health; our dreams, and even our very faith.
When our youngest daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a few years ago, I entered into the process of grieving the relatively easy life we had known previously, as well as the expectation for her pain-free and healthy future. Suddenly a new level of stress descended upon us as her parents, and it has remained our constant companion.
She has gone through her own period of deep grief, mourning "the good old days" before finger pricks, needle pokes, diligently monitoring carb intake and food ingredients, missing out on the cake & candy at class parties if her sugars are too high, and having to constantly carry a bulky pack around with all of her supplies. It is a frustrating, painful, terrifying, and inconvenient disease. And so we mourn.
My husband went through his own grief when he realized that his career dreams were not going to reach fruition, even though he had tried his hardest to make them reality. He was crushed, and remained entrenched in his grief for a number of years. The loss of dreams can be doubly hard, because they are not as tangible as the loss of people.
According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are 5 STAGES OF GRIEF. These include:
1. Denial and Isolation. "This is NOT happening. I will not acknowledge it and it will go away."
2. Anger. "UNFAIR! I do not deserve this *&%$ to be happening."
3. Bargaining. "Okay, God. If you stop this from happening, I promise to become a nun."
4. Depression. "Life is not worth living since this has happened."
5. Acceptance. "This has happened. It stinks, but life goes on. What's for dinner?"
It would be great to just cruise through all of these stages in a "reasonable" amount of time, and have our grief thoroughly and quickly dealt with. However, we get stuck in some stages, and even bounce back and forth between them, adding to the confusion: "I thought I dealt with this already!" Welcome to life in the real world. If you haven't encountered grief yet, you will. It is a necessary part of the human condition, and can be absolutely transformational if we walk through it completely and with openness to the rich lessons that can result.
My beliefs about suffering and loss revolve around spiritual growth. I believe that we choose our life lessons prior to our birth, as well as the length of time we will be here. When the lessons have been learned and our time here has been spent, we return to Spirit (God), which is our true home. I believe that we not only choose those with whom we have intimate contact on earth, but that we also likely know them in spirit, as well. Sometimes our irritating, upsetting relational issues here are exactly what is needed in order for us to burn up previous karma . I do not have all of the answers, I am just sharing what makes sense to me, and what has helped me to deal with my own grief.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of believing that we have to be "the best" wife, mother, father, child, friend, etc.; at least on an unconscious level. In my own life the trap I fell into related to my spiritual identity. I was going to be The Best Christian Ever. No one would live their life more consciously than me, basing every thought, conversation, and action on the Bible. It's like my religion was my reason for being; all else paled in comparison. My main reason for existence was to win souls for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Trying to be "the best" eventually becomes second nature to us, and we continually try to live up to the image we perceive that others have of us. Eventually, we find ourselves depressed and unhappy about life and unfulfilled in our dreams. This is very significant: When we give our power to other people, dreams, and beliefs, we have not been true to who we are. WE CAN NEVER BE TRULY HAPPY UNTIL WE LIVE OUR OWN LIVES - not just the life that others tell us we should live.
Often we have compromised our individuality and not been true to ourselves because of the desire to please. So when the loved one dies or the relationship is severed (or in my case, when our faith shockingly and painfully dissolves), we are left with no sense of self-esteem because so much of our identities were tied to the other. All that is left is a sense of emptiness and loneliness.
I am very pleased to tell you that life does go on. The mourning may last for years, and it is painful. When I was walking through my own grief about my loss of faith - which was far harder than any other loss I have ever experienced - I felt like I was in a tiny dinghy, out on a vast ocean with no one else around. And I mean NO ONE. I went from believing that Jesus was my BFF and God was always there, caring for me and loving me, to not even being certain that there IS a God, or even an afterlife. I am not exaggerating when I tell you I felt desperate, shattered, devastated, and utterly alone. I pulled up the covers over my head some days and wept bitter, terrified tears. I could not discuss this with my religious friends, as it would likely only result in chastisement ("You just need more faith!"). I could not discuss it with my family because it was such a huge paradigm shift that I did not want to subject them to it, to my own terrifying fears that everything my life was based on had been untrue. At times my grief was so overwhelming that I contemplated ending my pain permanently. The loss was that deep.
How did I get through it? I read everything I could find by others who had come through similar trauma and survived. I opened my mind and heart to any possible lessons that could be learned from my situation. I started discussing my fears and grief with others who were loving and nonjudgmental. I went to my doctor when I was scared of my own desperation, and sought medical help to get me through the hardest times. I prayed, even though I wasn't sure if anyone would hear me. And here I am, on the other side of it all. I made it - and so will you.
MY ADVICE ON SURVIVING GRIEF AND LOSS:
*Research. Read. Attend lectures, seminars, or anything else that pertains to your situation.
*Surround yourself with those who love you and want only your peace & happiness.
*Realize that FREEDOM comes with loss. Was your time and energy totally consumed by this other person? Now you are released - so make the most of it. Explore your old creative passions and hobbies - things that excited you and made you happy!
*BE TRUE TO YOURSELF.
*Practice "Extreme Self Care," as my dear friend Trish advises. Find out what makes your soul sing with joy, and do it! This may be as simple as a bubble bath with a good book, or as grand as finally taking your dream vacation.
*Experience your feelings. Don't deny them or pretend that it isn't so bad. If you try to omit this important step in your grief, you prolong it.
I now have a fantastic group of spiritually open, loving, thoughtful friends. It was hard to rebuild my life, but I did it (thank you, Facebook!).
I am grateful to Ms. Kubler-Ross and to Mr. James Van Praagh for what they have taught me about grief.
Don't give up! There is life after loss.