Thursday, February 9, 2017

How You Can Grow Through Grief

I once read an article by a British physician who said that, "Growing up is a series of mourning losses." It made sense because as we get into our teens and beyond we have gone through so many losses in which our childhood imagination of what life is all about is constantly challenged by the real world.

However, I also would argue that in one sense all of life is a series of mourning losses, from birth to the big death. Loss experiences never seem to stop coming. Yet we always seem surprised when they occur, as though we were unlucky, or we did something wrong to have such a thing happen. And there is good reason for this: we are focused on life and living, as we should be.

Nonetheless, everyone experiences grief and the loss of loved ones. But it never happens in a vacuum. There is much that mourners experience and learn from their ordeals that helps them become more human, whole, and sensitive beings. Here is some of what we can learn in the midst of our sorrows--that will change our lives for the better--if we will only be open to it.

1. We learn that everything changes. This means of course that we too have to change to meet the new conditions of life. We are not the same persons we used to be. Loss may cause us to go in a different direction. Since change is eternal, it teaches a big life lesson: to live in the present precious moment.

2. We learn that healing highlights the need for community. We need each other. The importance of deep human connection becomes clear. Sometimes you may realize that such connection is not just a part of healing--it is needed throughout life. We thrive on it. We want connections we can always trust and rely on.

3. We learn about the power of and need for love. Paracelsus, the Renaissance physician and alchemist said, "The main reason for healing is love." That is, the motivation to heal is closely wound up in the love of those who are near and dear to us. Perhaps healing love is what all of our lives should continuously be about. This could be the number one lesson that the pain of loss has to teach.

4. We learn the importance of dependence and the awareness that we all need help. Despite the run on rugged individuality, we all need assistance at various times and by the right people. It is okay to depend on others.

5. We learn we are so alike, but we are also very individual in how we mourn. Interacting with friends and relatives often shows that our grieving styles tend to mimic our lifestyles. They are so different and yet we all feel sorrow, each in our own way.

6. We learn that searching for meaning is necessary. Our grief often causes us to look at spiritual questions and find a different meaning in life and death. We often wonder where our loved one is now. Reflecting on the questions of why we are here and if there is an afterlife may affect our values, especially if we have input from those we trust and respect.

7. We learn the importance of holding the memory of the deceased. We learn that memories are critical grieving tools and that we can continue to use them as part of our new life. And we should always remember the advice of the great American writer Antoinette Bosco: "We do no honor to our departed loved ones if we change so much from the pain that they wouldn't recognize us as the person they knew and loved."

8. We learn we cannot control everything. The illusion of control hurts deeply when reality shows the way life really is. The universe is on its own schedule; our plans are second. Grief thrusts us into a totally unfamiliar existence where we feel confusion, usually traced to our inability to control what has happened. Acceptance of our inability to control much of life--and allow it to unfold--is a major step forward.

9. We learn that resistance to the normal flow of grief (with its many ups and downs) and to life changes brings more suffering. We have to let change happen; we can't stop it. We want our old life back but we can't have it. It is necessary to go on to the next stage, wiser and more knowledgeable.

In summary, every loss experience is an opportunity to learn and find new meaning in existence. Life is all about meeting continuous change through renewal. We have to reinvent ourselves to meet the new conditions of life. In short, we are continuous works in progress, gaining from each transformation. For our part, we have to let it happen, refuse to resist, take advantage of the wisdom presented to us, and use the insight gained to become more complete persons.

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