Friday, May 9, 2008

Successful Grieving

How does one grieve successfully? Can this really be achieved? What is the best way to facilitate grieving? These are some questions I have been contemplating over the last few days. I think often of new widow/ers and how I can best help them during this nightmare stage of their lives.

First, let's work with the definition of success that I am most comfortable with:

Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.
— Earl Nightingale

A few points flow directly from this quote:

  • One needs a goal in order to be successful

  • Success is a gradual process, not a sudden event

So, back to successful grieving. I needed a goal. In my case, I quickly determined that my goal was to be at total peace with Deb's death. Easier said than done! Still, I had my goal out in front of me. Next, I needed to take gradual steps to realize this goal of total peace. But in what direction should I head? This was my first real experience with death, and I found that societal support was pretty much non-existent.

Still, I knew it was possible to grieve successfully -- others had done so before me, and many of them had documented their success. A key component of success is imitating those who are already successful, making use of their hard-won acquired wisdom. So, one of the first directions in which I set out was the public library where I signed out Seven Choices by Elizabeth Harper Neeld. A big insight I acquired from reading this book was that grief work would likely be carried out over a period of years. This was disheartening, but I was glad to be reading about my first success story nonetheless. It also helped me to read such a detailed account of someone else's grief.

The Importance of Asking "How" Questions

I stress this point a number of times on this blog. "How" questions will lead you to your goal. Yes, there tends to be a period of time where our thoughts are dominated by "why" questions. For me, those questions included,

  • Why did Deb die at 32 years of age?

  • Why did she get cervical cancer and suffer such a horrible death?

  • Why did she say goodbye to me emotionally 15 months before she died?

  • Why was I left to raise a 2-year old by myself?

You'll notice, of course, that none of those questions were getting me any closer to my goal. And no matter how many times I struggled with those questions, I never did come up with any real answers. However, I've since read that this is a normal phase of grief, so it is good to know that I am normal ;-)

I think part of the reason I didn't spend too much time dwelling on "why" questions is because I read Lester Leavenson's highly irritating quote in Happiness Is Free: And It's Easier Than You Think!:

Try to see the perfection where the seeming imperfection seems to be.

"Seeming imperfection" - give me a break! But you know, a little seed was planted the day I read that tidbit, and I began to entertain the idea that maybe, just maybe, there was a good reason for all this crap to have happened. Maybe things were unfolding perfectly, however demented it seemed to contemplate such a thing at the time.

Back to "how" questions. The main question I kept asking myself was, "How can I be at peace with Deb's death?" As I began asking this question, I started getting answers.

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