If there is anything that binds us all together, it’s that we have had something taken away from us.
It’s the reality that we have all lost something extremely important to us.
It’s been months, and I can still feel my hands tremble as I rest them on this keyboard. My heart beats out of my chest as I invite the pains from my loss.
And with grief, the only way to move forward is just that.
Feel. Deal. Heal.
But it’s the lesson that this broken heart learned, that makes me forever grateful for what I lost, because it was only when I felt like I lost it all, I learned it all.
Because rock bottom teaches you more than mountain tops ever will.
Grief noun is defined as a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement” it’s the cause of suffering.
It’s no surprise grief is found in the earliest texts, such as Iliad, or the Bible.
And that’s because humans have the unique and immense capability to love, which is biologically coded into our DNA to form attachments as parents and partners. It’s a gift to humanity. But it’s when that attachment is broken, that grief shows up.
…and it lingers.
Sometimes for life.
Grief can wear many hats: Depression. Anger. Resentment. Hate. Remorse. Jealousy. Anxiety. Confusion. Hell.
Grief feels like being homesick, but knowing your home no longer exists. It feels like waking up as a stranger in a foreign land.
And that is exactly why grief can be such a complicated experience to overcome.
So what do we do? How do we handle this? How do we grieve the loss of someone that is gone? Someone that is still alive? Or something that can’t come back?
It starts with a counterintuitive process. One that isn’t linear. One that can radically shift day by day, or hour by hour. There is no direct path through it.
But it is bittersweet, as you pick up the pieces and discover something new about yourself, and found what you had originally lost.
It starts with walking through the loss.
The stages of grief are universal and experienced by all people from every culture. In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross coined the process we still refer to today as “The five stages of loss” in her book, On Death and Dying.
In no particular order, grief typically can look like the following. Additionally, grief is circular, as you may revert back to various stages of grief:
- Denial & Isolation
“this isn’t happening, this CAN’T be happening to me…”.
Denial is a defense mechanism created by the amygdala, a small bean shaped portion of the brain that rests on top of your brain stem, that’s purpose is to kick on the fight, flight, or freeze response. To deny the reality of the loss, means you don’t feel the loss.
The survival instincts of the brain kick in during the acute portion of the loss. Meaning, our brains are so overwhelmed with stress, that the amygdala fires up with the sole purpose of buffering the pain.
Denial is often the first, and shortest stage of grief.
As the amygdala quiets down and denial fades, the reality of the pain settles in. Our minds replay memories as it tries to make sense of what went wrong, bringing in confusion, frustration, and more pain. The mind deflects this pain, and expresses it as anger.
It’s the churning of these emotions that lead us to frustration, and one way to release it, is to express it as anger. Pain can dominate our mind, and shut down our ability to think rationally. Anger can be a release, but if processed incorrectly, it can be a trap that keeps us stuck in resentment.
It can keep you:
- Mad at yourself.
- Mad at your loved one who abandoned you.
- Mad at God.
- Mad at others who are happy, when you are miserable.
There is hope with anger. Check back later for coping with anger.
I like to call our mind a problem-solving machine, but it loves to solve the wrong problems. As such, it goes back and tries to solve to the problems that have passed.
“If only I had seen the red flags”
“If only I treated her better”
“If only I was good enough”
Scenarios often play out in your mind, but it only denies the inevitable. If left unchecked, this process of grief will ultimately show up as shame. We start to believe there is something we could have done differently. It evolves into shame where we start to believe there is something wrong with us. We are broken.
This is a pivotal stage that, if not processed correctly, haunts your next relationship, or stops you from your next relationship entirely.
Depression is what happens when you tread water for a long time. As you start to get tired, you pray for someone to reach out to you. As you sink below the surface, you wonder how long you can hold your breath for. It’s a function that painfully reminds you, that you never needed that person to pull you out of the water, it’s a reminder that you were capable of swimming all along.
This stage is often a private event. It’s our subtle mourning as we finally bid farewell to the loved one.
And say hello, again, to the one you needed to love this entire time.
Ultimately, grief boils down to one reality – that something that you once loved is now gone. Failing to reconcile with this reality, is where suffering can set in.
There are pains of life that are unavoidable. But to vehemently avoid the pain, leads to a deeper level of hurt – and we call that suffering. By denying reality, living in the past, holding onto the hurt, we deny ourselves the process to choose peace. And we will be stuck.
Part of our human suffering is caused by our unwillingness to change along with the changes around us. Don’t fight it. Embrace it.
Literally if you have to.
Check out the part 2 of this post for how to move past your grief.