The Grief Process is our built-in ability to both “make sense” of loss, and to move past it to a personal resolution, whatever that might be. It might be a movement from resentment to forgiveness, from weakness to strength, from injury to wholeness. It always leads us to become more than we were.
Grief is an emotional, physical, and spiritual reaction to a major loss. Grief may be triggered by the death of a loved one, or an illness for which there is no cure, or a chronic condition that affects our quality of life. The end of a significant relationship may also cause a grieving process.
Everyone feels grief in their own way. However, there are some commonalities that our personal grief processes share. The process starts with recognizing a loss and continues until a person eventually accepts that loss. The Grief Process seems to be made up of of five stages. These stages might not occur in a specific order, and can (at times) occur together. Everyone may not experiences all of these emotions:
- Denial, disbelief, numbness
- Anger, blaming others
- Bargaining (for instance “If I am cured of this cancer, I will never smoke again.”)
- Depressed mood, sadness, and crying
- Acceptance, coming to terms
Since grief is not just one thing, it is important to give “voice” to each facet, but not to allow only one part of it to dominate entirely. We cannot allow feeling to so dominate us that we lose our ability for “doing”. Nor can we allow “doing” to so dominate us that we cannot feel. We are seeking balance, a new balace. A good example is when we are both sad and angry about a particular loss. If we are entirely stuck in only sadness, we do not have the energy necessary for daily tasks, and if we get stuck solely in our anger, we lose our empathy and approachability. I give “permission” to each of my parts to express all that I am feeling, and make conscious decisions to pull out of anything I seem to be getting stuck in. As the hours, days, and weeks go by, I seem to revisit all my feelings many times, until I find at some point, that it has all subsided on its own, and I am better for it.
We seem to have a sort of “schizophrenic” relationship with the Grief Process in our society. On one hand we do acknowledge that we must move through the pain to get to the other side. If a loved one dies, or a relationship ends, advice is given that we should “take time to grieve” so that “old doors can close, and new ones can open”. On the other hand, we look at people grieving as somehow maybe “not spiritual enough”, or we might make judgments about the speed with which they progress through their grief, or the kind of grief (sadness might be OK but anger or rage, oh no!). Or – (and this is probably the most common), we look at a grieving person as needing to be “fixed”. Worse, we might give them pills that interfere with their grief. Granted, they no longer feel the full import of their pain, but they most likely will never properly process the event or events that caused that pain. They are separated from their pain, but become separated from their Truest Selves. People drink to keep their pain at bay. Churches tell us we will be “rewarded” in the next life, that suffering in this life is unimportant! In one way or another, other people often get in the way of our feeling and expressing our grief, and our efforts to find meaning in our suffering, in order to move forward. Perhaps they do this because it reminds them of their own grief, which was never “allowed” – and they may have been avoiding their own at all cost, for a very long time. It’s a shame that we see the Grief Process as an indication of “broken-ness” rather than a pathway to the future. It is our process of “Becoming”. It is our Healing Process. It is a part of us.
Recently I was betrayed by my partner, and our fourteen year relationship ended. I experienced this very real loss differently than I ever did before. I gave myself fully – and I mean fully – to my own grief process. I had time, safety, seclusion when needed, support when needed, and an understanding of my own workings that allowed me mostly to not be afraid of the very powerful forces freely flowing in me. I knew that all feelings come and go. I knew that they are the language of a very deep part of myself, and that they tell a story about my loss that can’t easily be put into words, and when listened to give wisdom that no words could ever really convey as clearly. They bring many things to light that were in the darkness, and often help to not only resolve the present injury, but if we’re open to it, past injuries as well. When we fully give ourselves to our Grief, we are fully connected to ourselves and More, in a way that we often do not experience during everyday life. It is a Sacred time.
I learned many things through my grief, over the years. As I said before, often things about the past come up as well as those losses in the present that we are grieving. I have dealt with my mother’s violence and her inability to connect or have empathy for her own son. I noticed that I felt shame, because a lot of other families didn’t have anything like what I experienced. I could see the looks of shock on their faces, when I told others what I had experienced. I felt shame, instead of “giving” that to my mother. That shame was not mine. Shame is about “defectiveness” rather than about making a mistake. I have also learned that PTSD “symptoms” that came from my mother’s abuse are a number of NORMAL REACTIONS to an abnormal event or events, and I have learned to embrace my “different-ness” (the PTSD “symptoms”) to a degree. But telling someone else about them left me feeling shame, and I had to work through that.
This time, I found myself feeling shame about my partner’s very dysfunctional break from our relationship, when I saw those same looks on other people’s faces, as I told them the story of her leaving. I had to struggle to “give” that shame to her, it was her behavior, not mine . We were two individuals responsible for our own behaviors. Relationship breakups aren’t always “caused” by both partners. It only takes one person to do something wrong or hurtful.
During my most recent period of grief about losing a fourteen year relationship, and all the hopes and dreams about growing old together, (even though most of it was in private), I noticed that nearly everyone could not tolerate my process, judged me for it, judged the process itself, or kept responding to me as if I was broken. I knew I was not “broken”. There were some exceptions but they were few and far between. I refused, this time, to be ashamed of my Process.
I gave myself to my Grief. I allowed it as much as I could, and I allowed it to carry me where it would, as fast or slow as it would, however it would. The thing is, though, it isn’t an IT! When I grieve, I feel sadness, and anger, and fear, right from the center of my being, a part of me that is wild and unrestrained, and absolutely honest. This “kid” part of me feels what he feels. Period. No “ifs” “ands” or “buts”. This is a part of us that we keep a stranglehold on for most of our lives. You can’t act “this way or that”. You can’t think “this way or that”. You can’t FEEL “this way or that”. This part of us is attacked by the world over and over, and we try to “civilize” this part of ourselves, rather than find an outlet for this dynamic creative, enthusiastic, passionate part of ourselves. We don’t even notice that we do this to ourselves, because others did this to us, and taught us to do it to ourselves! Most of the time, we live with only a very small percentage of this passion and energy. We wonder why there is so much depression in our society. I tell you, that it comes from binding this wild part of ourselves, this part of ourselves that exists to help us attain our destiny, if such a thing exists, and our highest happiness!
When we “surrender” to our Grief, we really are surrendering to this part of ourselves that is meant to “lead the charge” in Life! Doors to the Old close. Doors to the New open. This part of us leads us from the old into the new! This part of ourselves finds meaning and strength of character in old wounds, and moves us mysteriously forward into the creative unknown. The process is messy, nonlinear, emotional, intuitive, patient, but also sometimes in some of us, more like a tidal wave, than a gentle current. It is as different in one person as in another because it is not a thing. Our grief process is the power of our soul or spirit moving us out of the past, and into the future. Why would we want to hamper this?
A couple of years ago, I was at my son’s wedding. My son has some wonderful friends. One in particular I watched as she danced. I like her because she is very authentic and honest. Many of my son’s friends have those same qualities. I was watching this lady spin and kick and sway with both incredible precision but also with complete abandon. The look on her face is what I have revisited many times in my memory. Pure unadulterated, uncontained, unbridled breathless Joy. How many of us as adults ever feel that? Or notice it in others? Later, she came over to my table. We talked a little about the wedding. I could feel that we were both very “present”. I especially like that, when two people can sit and talk without any hurry or pretense. Then the “kid in me” knows it is safe, and can come to the forefront in me. I asked her if she had ever been to Mardi Gras, probably because of the festive nature of this occasion. She hadn’t, and I remember saying that I would have loved to have gone, back in “my crazy days” because back then I could still “misbehave”. As I told her this, I felt very child-like, and snapped my fingers in an “aw shucks!” kind of kid-like gesture. She smiled and said “You know, it’s OK to “misbehave here”! I have revisited that statement many times as well. I could feel its import when she said it. It was about “allowing” our “wildness”. It was about letting go.
Dancing doesn’t “make sense”. It just is. Music doesn’t “make sense”. It just is. By giving ourselves over to music or dance or any other creative process, we are both transported and enriched. By giving ourselves to “what is” we find all manner of wonderful things. By giving ourselves over to our Grief Process, when that is “what is”, we become more, not less, and find ourselves better equipped to move forward in our lives, discovering new possibilities, new doors that are open to us, as those old doors close on our past. We charge forward on that unbridled Wild Stallion that we find there, towards the future that awaits us.
© 2011 Ken Scully
All Rights Reserved
In Life, I notice that there is tension, and there is release. The tension builds and builds over time. The tension is need. Need for a change. Need for something to be created. Need for a fulfillment of some form. Need for action. Tension, tension, tension, tension. Then “Pow!”, the arrow flies to its intended target.
My life seems to operate this way. Am I the bow? People tell me to be the Archer. Am I the Archer, or the bow?
If I am the bow, who is this Invisible Archer, that wields the bow, applies tension to the string, then releases that tension to allow the arrow to fly to its intended destination. Who is the Archer?
I only find the Archer, and who He is, as I willingly allow myself to be the bow.
Richard paced exuberantly about the room, as if he were pursuing a parade that was yet to be. He looked and sounded like that British correspondent, with the same first name – Richard Quest. You know, that boisterous and flamboyant, almost manic correspondent for CNN that all the other CNN anchors don’t quite know how to react to? Teeth so big, that you just know they were made for smiling. Even his own name describes him. Quest. Well, this Richard says to his family, “Let’s go on a holiday!” Grinning in amusement. Eyes wide open. His whole demeanor makes some folks laugh in amusement, other folks laugh in derision. Still others just cringe, because they are in such unfamiliar territory. “We’re going on vacation!” he sort of sings. “A holiday!” he says, drawing out the words as if following a hidden melody that only he hears. “And we’re all going to walk!” he says, as if it were the biggest, most pleasant, special present, that he had just opened for all to see. He might as well have left a “steaming heap” in the middle of the living room floor, what with the looks he had just seen on their faces.
His family sat stunned. They had become enamored with Richard’s exuberance. After all, they were his family, and he part of theirs. His daughter Paprika, and his son Chipotle were the first, however, to jump on his “bandwagon”. His wife, Charlotte had, at first hated the names he had chosen, but curiously, they had grown on her in each case, and they had been in agreement when it finally was time for them to make the choice. It usually took her some time to make decisions, she didn’t just jump right in like Richard was used to doing. The names had turned out to be descriptive of their unique spirits. Paprika was gentle, with a reddish hue to her blond hair. Her personality had a tentative quality about it, and her approach to life was a subtle touch rather than anything more aggressive. Chipotle was much more “fiery” than his sister, but tempered. He loved the outdoors, campfires, and storytelling. Eagerness showed on Chipotle’s face. Paprika looked tentative and slightly amused. Charlotte looked like she had just accidently swallowed a frog.
“Where are we going, Dad?”, Chipotle asked excitedly. “I…don’t….knowww…!”, he disclosed, drawing each word out, as if he were savoring each one and grinning the biggest grin you ever did see, as if it was the biggest, most funny joke he had ever heard. “It’ll be an a..d..v..en..t..u..r..e!”, he said, once again drawing out that last word.
“But Honey”, Charlotte said. “We’re supposed to be adults. We have responsibilities. What will the neighbors think, when we trudge by their homes, dragging our belongings with us, like some homeless vagabonds?!” “I know, Love! Isn’t that great! It’ll be one big hoot!”, he said. Silence. His smile disappeared for just a moment, and then was followed by a different one. This one carried the look of someone who had just discovered something that made him happy. “Alright, Love. We’ll go out the back door, and we’ll travel light. No neighbors. We won’t look like vagabonds to anyone who sees us, we’ll look like we’re off to the park for a picnic, and decided to walk.” Charlotte looked unconvinced, but she no longer looked like she had swallowed a frog. “Now get your things together”, Richard said. “And don’t forget to pack light!” “It’s off into the U..k..n..o..w..n!!” he sang, as he went downstairs, to retrieve their gear. “Yaaahooo!”, Chipotle whooped, as he went off to his room. Charlotte and Paprika looked at each other. Paprika had an amused look, her eyebrows drawn way up on her forehead. Charlotte looked like she had finally digested that frog, bones and all.
Absolute internal honesty eventually brings us to a point where we realize that Awareness is the experience of Life, and of ourselves, our True Selves. That is a primary truth. Getting there may take a number of “processes”, especially the process of “Letting Go”, which includes the “Grief Process”, which itself includes the sub-process of “Forgiveness”, and another sub-process of Letting go of “Control” and “Fear”. Practicing absolute internal honesty is part of each of these processes, or “paths”. Awareness is a primary Truth. Beingness. Receptivity. Acceptance. Love. Joy. Awe. Wonder. Knowingness. Truth. Compassion. Non-resistant experience of What Is. The Now.
To share our individual experience of the Now, we need a contextual framework to communicate that individual, or individuated experience to “others”. Logic is that tool. It is only a tool we use, a sort of “machine”. It is only a tool that we use, to express Truth, but the “fuel” for this “engine”of logic must be unadulterated Awareness, not a limited, less than truthful version of it. Otherwise that engine will sputter, spewing noxious fumes to the environment through which it “travels”. Absolute internal honesty is one of the “filters” we may use, so that the engine runs more smoothly. When it runs smoothly, we see it for what it is, only a tool to communicate Awareness with others. Curiously, when logic sputters, and nearly stalls, we are blinded by our and others’ logic “machines”. With all the noxious, blinding smoky fumes, the poorly running “machines” can no longer be seen for what they are. An emotional “Smog” also does the same thing to us. So Logic is finite, and limited. It is only a tool. Our thinking is only a tool. It is Secondary. It is not who we are, although many identify with their thinking, or with the “Emotional Smog” rather than Awareness. Awareness is independent of the “object” in “Its” field of experience, in a way. Logic is secondary. Awareness is Primary.
I want to tell you a little about what I know about letting go. When I first heard about this process, (and for me, it does seem to be a process), I was terrified by what I was told. In retrospect, I see that fear was not really warranted, but certainly understandable. I was told about this process, first in a 12 Step Group, flavored with its particular philosophy and agenda, later by various individuals who saw letting go through the lens of religion, native American teachings, new age teachings, probably even other ways that I don’t now recall. Certain ways of seeing this process were less scary to me than others, but all of them attempted to describe something that is very real and natural. I will attempt to tell you about letting go, without those prejudices, or diminishments, as much as I can.
This morning I went for my morning walk. My morning walks are exercises in letting go, in relaxing into the NOW, into forgetting for a few brief moments, all the ways I can see myself; you might say that I’m taking off all the different “hats” I wear at various times. I followed our dirt road out into a very open area. On the way, different things would catch my attention – a squirrel here, a bird there, each vegetable area in my garden, a brief glimpse of blue sky and puffy cloud through the trees, the texture of the gravel under my feet, wild grapes hanging from the live oaks, each holding my attention for a moment each time, while I was still aware of the totality of this setting through which I walked. I walked as slow as a little kid who had much shorter, weaker legs than I have. I didn’t force that, it just came natural. I quit thinking about all that was going on in my life, pulling my attention back gradually to just take in my surroundings. Gradually I settled into the NOW.
I arrived at the field, where I usually “say” my morning prayers. Displayed before me was a beautiful Robin’s egg blue sky, clean pure white puffy Cumulus clouds, that entirely wrapped the scene before me in every direction above. Below that was a still well defined layer of fog, thick, textured, grey, and soft looking. Below that I could see a denser landscape – an uncut summer hay field, horses staring back at me from a farm on the far side of the field, far off farmhouses, barns, fences, the entire landscape wrapped in tree lines of live oak. Depending upon where my attention was, I could say that it was overcast, foggy, or clear with a few puffy clouds. Each would be correct, but only a part of the reality that was true. I experienced the whole scene without prejudice or dissection, just taking it in, seeing the beauty, feeling myself within that landscape, and experiencing a wonder that I cannot quite put into words . For me, all that is part of the experience of letting go and entering the NOW. Along with my sense of wonder, was the knowledge, that the landscape before me represented the Truth about this Life we live.
One might say, “That’s beautiful! It feels like what you say is true, but how could I live my life that way? I have responsibilities! I have a job, and a mortgage, and bills! People will think I’m a loon! I can’t do that! I’m too screwed up! I don’t have time! People depend on me! I wish I could do that, but I can’t!”
I have said all those things, and asked all those questions, and felt all those fears. I was looking at a final destination, rather than a journey. I saw it as something I had to do; something that I couldn’t do, rather than a process I was entering. In truth, “not letting go”, is what we have done to ourselves throughout this Life; that is where “the doing” is. “Letting go” is not about “doing”, although within the process, we may have lots to do. It is more about accepting, awareness, absolute honesty (even about the layers of deception within ourselves that we and others put there), a process of grief for our losses (even the loss of how we have been seeing ourselves), and contact with others going through the same process.
I spent many years in group therapy. I was looking for answers, looking for resolution, looking for a way to be “okay”. I changed and healed more in that group, than I had in all my previous years of “one on one talk therapy”, or all the years of my own effort. The two leaders set boundaries to help us feel safe, but they controlled nothing. That environment helped some of us to practice “letting go”. “Letting go” was necessary to get to our injuries in ways that were experiential rather than just intellectual. Miraculous things seemed to happen on a regular basis. By “letting go”, I was able to find a lot of resolution for my many injuries. Others doing the same, helped me to let go. My “letting go” helped others. Our injuries as well as our indiscretions scream at us for attention, for resolution. They grab and hold our awareness, and pull it from the NOW. In my case, my “Caretaker” role (one of the many hats I wore), and my role as “The Black Sheep” in my family of origin, enshrouded my True Self. Attending to those needs and dishonesties that were vowing for my attention, has allowed me to have a quieter internal environment. It’s easier to let go now, after that practice. I attempt to continue to do what I learned in my group. In a nutshell, I relax enough to let go of my need to understand, and follow my spirit.
I remember during my “crazy days”, where I was most out of control, my friends and I would smoke pot, and listen to an improvisational comedy group called “Firesign Theater”. We’d laugh like loons at their silly antics, and crazy sayings. I’m sure most of us remember some of those episodes. One saying that stuck in my mind, in an odd way was “Everything you know is wrong.” Everything in our culture or society, praises “not letting go”. We are expected by family and friends to “not let go”. We praise control, and see “letting go” as giving up. They are not the same. Jesus said that we must lose our lives to gain them. There is wisdom in those words, because the lives we have built, are based on “perceptions” that are not true. Those “perceptions” are not perceptions at all, but constructs that have been taught to us. They interfere with true perception, true awareness! “Everything you know is wrong.”
You might say, “how can I do this “letting go thing”, when I am married? My wife and I fight, and I don’t want to give up my marriage!” I only have answers within my experience, which work for me. I’m sure you will find those answers that work best for you. However, let me tell you a story. Sometimes my wife and I have difficulties. We get lost in stuff that just isn’t true, despite our best efforts to remain honest and caring, and non-blaming. Relationships are difficult. We have had many ups and downs. During the “down” times, I’m sure we have each wondered if it is worth it, and have despaired. During the “up” times I’m sure we both don’t question whether it is worth it at all. We both were abused terribly when we were young, so we have had significant issues, to say the least. Recently, each time I have experienced one of those “down” times, I have felt some pretty intense feelings of despair, despite a part of me knowing that my experience of despair would pass. I strove to see what we were doing, what each of our reactions was, what was really true, to the best of my ability to know, noticing anything petty or untrue within me about our difficulty. I also saw I had NO ANSWERS, other than my understanding of our interactions. I did not know how to fix what was wrong. I can change what I do, but not others. Many options lay before me, but which one was the “correct” one? So I prayed to choose the “right” way of handling the situation. To my surprise I received no answer. Or so I thought. Each time, I sat with my wife, relaxed, knew I had NO ANSWERS AND WOULD HAVE TO JUST WAIT AND SEE HOW IT ALL CAME OUT (perhaps it wouldn’t come out the way I might choose, and I had to be willing to allow that!). I’d keep my attention on her, not on solutions, or my fears of finding none. My mind would be a blank, until the words were there. The most honest words. The most honest feelings. The most honest unpolluted awareness of us and our situation, because it was all there in the NOW. It all was just there. I don’t think I can find any words to really describe it. It has “happened” many times. It has developed over time from all the little things that I have done along the way, and also, because of all the things that have happened to me along the way as well.
I told a friend recently, that during the “hard times” we let go more, and during the “easy” times, we let go less. Those of us that choose this path of “letting go” may recognize the truth of that. I have noticed in me, that I do that, but I also notice that there are far more areas in my life that I do not control anymore, and am allowing more areas of my life that are like that. I also see that sometimes we will suffer, when we DON’T let go. Suffering is optional.