Grief and loss are one of the most common issues that bring people into therapy, and yet we know little of how to cope with grief, and what the stages of grief might be. The intensity of the pain, and the almost overwhelming emotions and intensity of our thoughts come as a shock. Who are we really?
In part 1, we reflected on our uncomfortable feelings of anger, relief and guilt, and the qualities of the lost one that we carry with us.
Now in part 2, we examine holding on and letting go, and the changeable day by day struggle with our grieving.
5. Letting go. Our mourning & melancholy is a way of holding onto what we have lost. Often we take on the aspects of our lost one. Some people talk of glimpsing them in the street, or hearing their voice, or even as a sense of their spirit continuing to inhabit familiar places. We look for them, and, like a dog who waits for his master, we keep our vigil, ever watchful for their return.
Exercise: If there is the opportunity to spend some time in a place associated with the lost one, then turn the phone off, and sit quietly with a candle either alone or with others, remembering, and honouring the memory, and then when you are ready, say thanks for the qualities you have been given, and perhaps read a poem or a reading aloud. Soon it is time to leave. It is ok. They have given you something precious, and you can take that out into the world.
This ritual, simple though it is, is powerful and affecting.
6. Good days & bad days. Grief is as changeable as the weather. Some days are good and some are bad. It seems to go on and on, in an intense series of waves of grief, and the gaps between can feel unreal when we are in the depths of sorrow. When the days are better, go out for a walk, or tidy the house; when they are bad, take time for the grief.
Exercise: it is ok to wallow. Learn to take the days you need. Have a duvet day at home and allow yourself to cry. Watch a sad movie, read a beautiful poem, write, and allow yourself to cry like a baby or a keening animal.
Each day is anew, and another day will be better. Allow yourself the time to feel desolate and devastated, to sit in sack cloth and ashes, and accept that it comes in waves.
7. Holding on. Life without loss would be entirely different. We could live as if we had all the time in the world, we could accumulate position and prestige as if we would have it for ever. We could live a life that doesn’t suit us because we have forever to get what we want? Right?
Exercise: As we think of our death, imagine we are going to die in a month. What do we need to do to? Take enough time to really sit with this, and notice what feelings emerge. Then imagine we only have a week. Then only have a day, then an hour, and then now. After this, light a candle and grieve for all that we will have to let go of, our own lost opportunities.
What makes life precious is that it is a limited resource. We can start to live right now, and move towards what makes us whole. We can let go of the things that really don’t matter to us anymore. The things that advertising promotes look quite different when we know we will die someday. Why spend a moment longer on things that are meaningless to us? We do need to master our life, and that means being out in the world, but perhaps at some point we have taken from our current position in life all we need, and we are ready to move on to a more vital living.
8. Change. Change is the basic unit of the transpersonal. In order to grow and change, we experience loss, because we move from a position we are comfortable with and know. Although the change can be devastating, it opens us to a transformation. This process of change is called the transpersonal, that is, it is beyond what we know, a leap of faith, a step into the void.
Exercise: As we begin to recognise the qualities of the lost one that we have taken on, and also begin to see our long winter of discontent, new growth occurs in surprising places. We may find that we are ready for change, but we need to be mindful that we are not seeking change as a way of avoiding our grief. How have we grown? What has changed in us? Looking back to our experiences of grief at the time, what has changed since then? Perhaps it is not the grief that has changed but us.
Part 3 of this series on grief will be posted in the week beginning 18th January 2016.