Grief is a difficult subject. It has raised it's head in my life once again with the deaths of my uncle and one of my brothers-in-law all in the space of one month. Then my good friend and fellow blogger Marie Ennis O' Connor raised the issue of grief in her blog Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer.
Grief is no stranger to me since I live every day with the absence of my daughter Hannah. I have learned some things about grief which I would like to try to put into words today. Whatever I say, please know that I have a depth of compassion for you, my reader, for your losses.
In the beginning, I think we all fight our grief. As if somehow by fighting it, we can prevent the loss of our loved one. Many of us are also terrified of grief, fearing if we 'give in' to our grief we will never come out again or that we will go insane. We can get stuck in this. I certainly did when Hannah died. I needed to say aloud 'Hannah died' over and over again to begin to take it in. In Irish communities world wide, this need is honoured in the custom of the wake and the ritual of receiving condolences. Bereaved people tell the story of how their loved one died over and over again. And in the telling, they begin to take it in and slowly accept the new reality of their lives.
Time moves on and for some, grief dulls from a sharp pain to a bearable companion. But for others this does not happen. The sharp pain goes on and on, and feels absolutely unbearable. I reached that point myself in grieving the loss of Hannah. As I looked on my pain, with curious compassion, I began to see that I had a belief that not being in this pain meant disloyalty to Hannah. In other words, if I was happy, that meant that I was being disloyal to Hannah. No wonder my pain did not ease! I looked at this belief and gradually I began to see that it wasn't true. I could love Hannah and miss her and begin to enjoy my life again. My enjoyment of life was not a mark of disloyalty to my beloved daughter. And my grief began to ease.
I still have sad days. I still have times when waves of grief wash over me. But now I am not afraid of them. I have these feelings because I love Hannah and I miss her. I enter into the feelings and they pass.
What I learned from this process, is that when grief becomes stuck, unbearable and unending there is always an unhelpful belief running the show. I experienced this in myself and also in my work with others. Every day now I help people to let go of beliefs that do not serve them. I cannot take grief away since it is human to grieve for those we love. But I can and do help people to find rewarding ways to live their lives again after loss.