Sunday, March 30, 2008

Gifts From Grief

Is there a silver lining to grief? Certainly that first year we're not interested in hearing about any so-called benefits of grieving. Pretty much all we're looking for from others is an acknowledgment of the tremendous pain we're experiencing, and hopefully some advice on how to find our way out. But once we have worked through a good deal of our memories and changed many of our habits, the pain lessens and we can begin to see that we have learned a few beneficial things through this whole gut-wrenching process.

Please don't misunderstand — I'm not saying that we should be happy that our spouse is dead, or that, because of what we have learned, the death of our spouse is worth it. That would be absurd. Unless you are reading this from jail, you likely had nothing to do with the death of your loved one, and in fact probably had a hand in caregiving or otherwise trying to keep them alive. So, their death was not a deliberate choice of ours.

But they died nonetheless. So I see nothing wrong with trying to find some benefit to going through such a hellish experience. And when we do find such a benefit, in no way does this diminish the love we shared with them.

Bob Livingstone wrote a very interesting article for Beliefnet that he has given me permission to share with you. He discovered a number of gifts while working through the loss of his mother. I hope you find it as interesting as I did:

The Hidden Benefit of Grief: Why It Doesn't Need to Hurt Forever

One man learns how to work through the pain of his mother's death and discovers six new gifts.

By Bob Livingstone LCSW

I was taught, as most of us were, that facing the death of a loved one is an action that should be avoided at all costs because it would cause too much pain. This hurting could only overwhelm you to the point where you couldn’t function.

I learned that this need to deny and avoid our own mourning causes physical and emotional complications that profoundly affect the quality of our lives.

I recently discovered the hidden benefit of grief: why it doesn’t need to hurt forever and I want to share my story with you now.

My mother died two years ago almost to this date. When I was an adolescent and young adult, my connection with her was rocky. We didn't get along because we had no patience or tolerance for each other. There was also a distinct lack of trust on both our parts that contributed to a chaotic relationship.

But all that dissension faded away as we found ways to repair the broken mother-son bond. When the time I reached my forties, my mother, her sixties, we actively pursued fixing what was broken.

We discovered a way to communicate that resolved wounds suffered in the distant past. We also both grew personally and emotionally. There was a willingness to be accountable for our own stuff.

When she died suddenly from heart failure, I was devastated, heartbroken and raw. I never thought I would recover from such relentless pain, but I did work through this loss and acquired new gifts.

Those gifts were:

  1. The deep anguish that her death created led me to understand emotionally, intellectually and spiritually how connected we were. Being in touch with this connection taught me how wonderful this bond was and how it was to be cherished.

  2. This connection opened up the door that allowed me to feel closer to my wife, family and friends. I now understood if I could deal with the intense anguish from my mother’s death, I could now face any pain that would arise in a close, meaningful relationship. This allowed me to drop my guard and not allow fear to rule my interactions.

  3. During the early stages of grief, I would focus on memories of my mother while I ran five miles while listening to music. I almost always listened to Rosanne Cash's beautiful CD, Black Cadillac. She was singing about the deaths of her mother, father and step mother. The song I was Watching You really resonated because I feel like my mother's always watching over me. I learned that by facing the pain directly, I could not only feel the void, but the beauty that life brings. To experience my body moving with the rhythm of the music and gazing at the bright blue sky while mourning my mom's death was astonishing.

  4. Successfully mourning my mother's death gave me a new sense of self confidence. I now believed that I could work through any trauma that life would throw me.

  5. I now clearly understood what successfully grieving meant. It means there is no unfinished business, no worrying about what I could have or should have done differently, it meant there was an absence of a dark cloud over my head. It meant that I believed my mother lived a full and complete life. It meant that I was not burdened by her and her spirit was not worried about me.

  6. I learned how spiritually healing a gut wrenching cry could be. When I was a young man, I was afraid to allow all the emotion that comes with a loss to be released. When I was crying while exercising or sedentary, I felt the pain erupt from my stomach, up through towards my throat that was aching while a massive stream of tears fell down my face. This made my mother’s death seem real and it defined the term letting go for me.

  7. There are experiences that we long to have with our loved ones. Sometimes these experiences don’t ever happen or the timing is off when the opportunity arrives. One of the women from my emotional healing class at the San Francisco County Jail said, “Many have told me that their mothers die while they are in prison. I pray that this doesn’t happen. When I see my mom again, I want to wash her feet and pamper her. She deserves better from me than she has received up to this point.” We all wish for that moment when we can gaze into our loved ones eyes and know that we are connected, cherished and adored forever. It is a time when the giving and taking is mutual and no one is keeping score. When and if this moment does arrive, it is fleeting and will lose its strength soon. Life is always moving forward even if you don’t want it to. I learned that when you do have the opportunity to bond with someone in this manner, don’t hesitate to go for it. I also learned that missed opportunities are a big part of life, but there is also the possibility of having infinite opportunities to experience all kinds of love.

Dedicated to Ida

Psychotherapist Bob Livingstone is a featured contributor to,,, and He is the author of the critically acclaimed book The Body-Mind-Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain through Exercise (Pegasus Books, Sept. 2007). For more information visit

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