Friday, June 13, 2008

Understanding Grief

I wrote last month about memories from a western perspective. In that post, I referred to a great book by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt called Understanding Grief. Tonight I'd like to quote a bit from the introduction to that book.

For the first six months after Deb died, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. I knew there was this thing called "grief" that I was supposed to do, but, having no prior experience with the death of anyone close to me, I had no frame of reference for understanding what grief was. I remember distinctly wondering, "what is grief, anyway?"

Dr. Wolfelt does an excellent job in his book of explaining, in a clear and concise way, exactly what grief is and how to complete that process. If you are newly bereaved, this book may provide some much needed answers at this bewildering time.

[from pages viii and ix]:

What Is This Wound Called Grief?

"Grief Work" may be some of the hardest work you ever do. Healing in grief is not a passive event. It is an active process. Because grief is work, it calls on your emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual energy. You cannot skirt the outside edges of your grief; you must go directly through it.

Please do not try to embrace your grief alone. You need fellow companions who will bring you comfort and support. My experience suggests trying to do grief work alone can be overwhelming. A useful analogy is as follows:

When you go out on a sunny day, the bright sunlight on your unprotected eyes creates stress. It makes seeing difficult. Sunglasses help filter out the harmful sunrays. Maybe you can think of the stress of your grief in just that way. If you respond to the stress of the death of someone loved alone, or without sunglasses, you may be overwhelmed. But if you accept the help of other people, just like putting on the sunglasses, your work of mourning will be accomplished more easily, and with less damage to yourself.

[from pages 1 and 2]:

Perhaps you have already heard the statement, "With time, you will feel better." The feelings of grief you experience when someone loved dies are sometimes described as "emotions that heal themselves." Yet, time alone has nothing to do with healing. To heal, you must be willing to commit to learning about and understanding the grief process.

When forced to confront the death of someone loved, you must become an active participant in your own healing. But in this culture, you are often left to your own resources at the very time those resources are the most depleted.

Another disappointing reality is that you may have little, if any, preparation for a new life as a bereaved person. In the crisis of grieving, you may even fail to give yourself permission to mourn, and you will usually not receive that permission from other people...

Grief is not a disease. No "quick fix" exists for the pain you are enduring. But I promise that if you can think, feel, and see yourself as an "active participant" in your healing, you will experience a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in your life.

To be human means coming to know loss as part of your life. Many losses, or "little griefs," occur along life's path. And not all your losses are as painful as others; they do not always disconnect you from yourself. But the death of someone you have loved is likely to leave you feeling disconnected from both yourself and the outside world.

Based on my own experience, that last paragraph is especially true. Now that I have successfully passed through the desert of grief, I can see more easily and readily the many "little griefs" that I pass through on a daily basis. But now, I have a wealth of tools and skills to help me navigate through those losses with an ease that eluded me before I was bereaved. If you are in the depths of intense grief, it is helpful to know that the skills you are acquiring now will become extremely useful and helpful in the days and years ahead. The day will come when you will be very thankful to have these tools you are now paying for so dearly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Vic,
I found your blog and you have so much information i needed. I am not a griever, but my best friend is (male). We were best buddies at work for many years now we live in differnt cities. He lost his wife at 34 (after a long illness) and now is alone with a 3 year old daughter so i think the scenario before her death is very similar to yours. It has been five months now since she passed, my friend was lost in tears and desperation at the begining, he found emotional support on me his only friend, but he did maybe too much... all of the sudden we became very dependable on eachother because of his grief Our feelings got mixed up all of the sudden and he started to court me and we became closer... but of course reality hit him again after new years eve and now he is very distanced from me, we are still friends but i think he is going through guilt and regret. He is very silent and quiet, barely reponds to my chats... there are some days (ussually before weekend starts) that his humor gets better, and jokes a little with me, i am very confused on what he feels about me because the very close friendship that we had sort of damaged after we got closer.. I know 5 months is still too soon to expect anything... but what is my role now as his friend, i dont know what to do to support him and not become involved. We have not seen eachother for 3 months,nor talked on the phone.... but he talks to me on MSN like 3 times a week. There are many times that he mentions he wants to come to town (doesnt say to see me, but i am the only person he knows here)...but then next day he cancels his trips, this has happened almost 3 times since we are distanced. Now he has made a 4th attemp to come and even said "i will call you to meet and do something together (and his daughter)"... so i dont know how to handle things with him anymore... when you said in your blog that after 2 years you were still not ready for a relationship, could be also because you didnt know someone at the time that would make you feel confident enough to start a relationshíp? my case we are close friends for many years, we have lots of friends in common and we have shared too much at work, during trips... we always respected eachother .... i dont even know why i am writing to you... but i am afraid to ask him "what do you want from me at this time? How do you want me to be with you? you want me to be your friend? you want me to make the first move picking up what we left off?".... Vic tell me, if my friend wants to see me... what is the best i can do to make him feel that peace, and confort he needs now.
I am very affected to what happens to him... if he is down one i dont even feel like eating and sometimes i cry, but i never let him know that. This couple of months that we have been distanced instead of helping me to "forget him" has actually turned the opposite... i have now realize how i love and care for him... i miss him so much we were so close as friends, we had a weekend together, talking about us... and now everything is so dark like i never knew him...I dont want him to know that i love him while he is still grieving his wife. I want him to be strong again and at peace....I have this hope that the attraction he felt for me a few monts ago, would come back, but most of all i want him to be happy and strong again. I miss my friend, he is not the same anymore. can you respond to my email (Thank you, your experience can help so many people suffering this kind of loss) Rossana