“The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost.”
– Arthur Schopenhauer
Grief. It is an intense emotion and a very personal experience. We all grieve differently. Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest authors of all time (remember War and Peace?), once wrote that “Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow.” I know a very few people – family and friends alike – who manage to wade through their grief quickly and in a matter of fact manner. Many others, like myself, grieve deeply and over a long period of time. There is no right or wrong way to grieve… although some people do experience a level of grief that spirals them into a deep depression that lasts years, decades and, in some extreme cases, a lifetime.
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
– Washington Irving
In my life, Grief has been a frequent visitor. We have a familiar routine, Grief and I. Grief sweeps into my spirit, like a Category 4 Hurricane. I allow myself to remain in the eye of the storm – daring it to make me collapse. Somehow, I always manage to survive – still standing, although somewhat bruised and battered. As American author Anne Lamott writes: “It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
It never goes away. It is always with me, to some degree. A memory, a smell, a song… can evoke joy and sorrow and then joy again – in one full sweep. This is why I refer to Grief as an “undertow” – a flow or current of water beneath the ocean waves near the shore that is powerful enough to suddenly lift you and immerse you in the next incoming wave.
“Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be. … Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”
– Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
I prefer to deal with grief privately – hugs from well-meaning people are not encouraged as I don’t like to be touched when I’m in the throes of grief. For me, it’s a solitary experience.
According to psychologists and grief counselors, there are five stages of Grief: Denial/numbness/shock, Bargaining, Depression/sorrow, Anger and Acceptance. However, as much as we want to give everything a label and a chronological order… the fact of the matter is that one goes back and forth (a number of times) between these stages. I’ve spent a lot of time visiting and revisiting the stages of bargaining (i.e. what could have been done to prevent the loss), sorrow and anger. And as for the final stage, Acceptance, well … it is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow, but once you do, it does bring some sense of peace. Not closure. Just peace. And that’s what you need to survive the undertow.
Some Book Recommendations:
The Year of Magical Thinking – by Joan Didion
Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss – by Pat Schwiebert
*Note: The title of this Blog, “Surviving that undertow called Grief” is the title of Volume 3 in my Baby Boomer Series™ of books (in progress)
Photo via flickr.com