Last time I wrote that Grief is much larger than something to be done by those who have had a loved one die. Grief belongs to all of us. Grief is an important part of life and its acknowledgement is essential for good health physically and emotionally.
I have become convinced that any significant loss that is not acknowledged, and dealt with, will in time become an impediment to our health, growth and well-being.
We allow those who have lost someone that they care about through death, to take a little time to grieve. Most companies permit 3 or 4 days bereavement leave. Hardly enough to even begin to grieve an important death, but at least a little time to do “the immediate, necessary things”.
If, however, you are sad or broken from a loss that is not a death, you will get no time to heal and very likely no acknowledgment from those around you. Death at least is easy to see. It’s very difficult to miss the fact that a friend or co-worker has had someone close to them die. That kind of thing becomes common knowledge and those who choose, can take a moment to express their sympathies and if they like can respond to your hurt and your need.
This recognition of your pain is important. It allows you a little time to miss work, show that you are blue and even act out of sorts…for a while.
As the person who is hurt you will likely find some sympathy and empathy from others and this will allow you a window to begin to grieve and a chance to see and feel that something important has happened. From here you will need to take a long time to feel, sort and heal. And it is here, in the working out of where you are and what you are left with, that we begin to mend our broken self.
I don’t for a minute want you to think that this process allows the griever to “ be fixed” or become transformed “back to normal.” Normal will never be back again. But it does at least offer an opportunity to understand what has been taken from you and how you might cope and in time and with work, move forward.
It is this process that we do not afford ourselves with other losses in our life. Death comes with recognition and some amount of permission, but the brokenness that we suffer when a love relationship ends or when children leave home or when we lose our jobs or our friends, is barely acknowledged, if noticed at all.
I believe that these losses and others like them are a central cause of unhappiness, aimlessness and, possibly even physical or psychological illness.
A broken heart or a crushed spirit, regardless of the cause, must be seen as important and acknowledged as needing to be recognized for it’s loss.
I can still recall vividly my first love. I was 17 and I was crazy about this girl. We dated for several months and I was very happy. It was a joyful time and I had a view of my world and myself like I never had before.
I’m not sure that I was thinking long term. I’m not sure I was thinking much at all. I just knew that this relationship was fresh and exciting and like nothing I had ever known.
As quickly as it came together, it was gone. It took years for me to understand why, but when she left I was devastated. Crushed to the point of needing help to manage on even a basic level.
I lost interest in school. I didn’t socialize with my friends. I didn’t care much for anything. I cried a lot, withdrew, and even suffered physically. There was a string of small illness, my shoulders became even more rounded and my energy was depleted.
Worst of all, there was no one to talk to and no support or sympathy to help me with my mess. This was after all, only a lost girlfriend.
I tell you this story because even though there was no death involved, the loss here for me was huge and the need that I had to deal with it in a helpful way was enormous.
Our lives are full of these kinds of loses.
Each time we lose someone or something important we must find a way to express what that loss means to us. We must grieve.
Grief unexpressed, and unresolved will, in time damage us.
It doesn’t mater if our sadness is from a loved one dying or from a relationship ending, a job gone, children leaving home or you moving and leaving friends behind.
It doesn’t matter if your heart is heavy from retiring or realizing that you are growing old. It doesn’t matter if your dog died or your best friend married and has no time for you anymore. We must grieve each time there is a reason for our unhappiness because of a significant loss.
Sometimes the loss can be so heavy and so painful that its weight can damage us forever. With losses that do not involve death we may never understand the need to grieve and we may never be given that chance.
Long-term gastro-intestinal ailments, headache problems, heart conditions, breathing problems, difficulty sleeping are a few physical places where unresolved grief may linger. Depression, anxiety, a history of nightmares, alcohol or drug dependency, just to name a few, may all have their roots in grief unrecognized and unresolved.
I am not suggesting that physical and emotional problem are necessarily linked to our inability to grieve our life’s losses. I do think that when there are important events that cause us sadness that we do not acknowledge and address, that the unresolved feelings that we never took the time to express and deal with may haunt us for a lifetime. Unfortunately, we may never make the connection between grief and our physical or emotional pain because the loss that we suffered was swept under the carpet of our lives years ago and never looked at as something needing our attention.
When you hurt, whether from the death of a loved one or from any other place that causes you to feel the pain of someone or something taken for you, you many need to grieve.
Next time I will begin to teach you how.