Grief: Nature’s Gift
The very idea of grief as a gift prompts many to ask how something so painful can be a gift. The answer must begin by acknowledging that nothing in life—as it is lived—falls into neat, simplistic categories of either/or. Grief, like all life events, is most often both/and. If we appreciate the logic and symmetry inherent in nature’s wisdom, we more readily acknowledge the seeming contradiction that grief is both our most painful experience and our internal healer. We are not thrown into life’s sea of loss bereft of hope: we trust that because loss is inevitable and pervasive throughout our lives, we have been given this gift of grief. What is this gift, how do we recognize it and how do we engage it?
The Gift of Grief: The Internal Healer
Grief, the natural response to all loss, is an integral part of the vital energy of life—the inherent creative energy that powers all aspects of growth throughout life. This inner healer teaches us that life’s journey is a double path of loss and gain. We recognize this gift of the healing life force through the myriad thoughts-feelings-sensations experienced as our grief story unfolds. And although painful, it represents the hope of our healing. When we heed nature’s requirement to actively participate in the healing process, we learn that we get to the joy through the pain. We engage the gift as we embrace the power of our internal healer, acknowledge that hope is always hope-for-what and willingly, albeit reluctantly, participate in the difficult healing work-of-grief (not to be confused with the psychological concept of “working through issues”). See full paper The Unfolding of a New Year
The Healing Work-of-Grief
The work-of-grief, best defined as using energy to heal the pain of loss, guides the process of discovering and creating different ways to be happy in the wake of devastating loss. Nature’s gift of grief invites us to gentle down for the long “rollercoaster ride” ahead—not a smooth path to “all better”, not “stages” and certainly not “closure” or “acceptance”.
The Rollercoaster Ride
The shock and surprise that marks the early, short chapter of our grief story ushers in the long chapter of confusing, tumultuous disorienting yearning—a deep, profound longing and searching for the life that was. While we know at a very primal place that our life has forever changed, we do not –yet—know how we will change, but we intuitively grasp that the death of one person was also the death of a life—as we knew it. We yearn for “someone to understand” but, seemingly, no one does! Perhaps, no one really can! Healing the pain of loss is as individual as the uniqueness of each person and each relationship.
The uniqueness surfaces in how we identify our “self”, how we define the relationship and how we view our participation in the events leading up to and surrounding the death. Among the many lessons that the gift of grief offers, perhaps none is as crucial as the ones we learn about our “self”. Loss announces to us our human imperfections and within the vulnerability of our deep sorrow, sensitive truths about our very identity may be revealed.
Identity—the Evolving Self
Our identity is not immutable. It is an evolving sense of self, born in stories we tell ourselves and rooted in messages and expectations gleaned from others. Our sense of self continues to evolve—throughout life—in the shadow of our intimate connections. Perhaps none is more intimate than our personal sense of self: how do we recognize ourselves in any given situation? Were we who we thought we were? Did we find disappointment, regret or a sense of not good-enough?
Death profoundly impacts our sense of identity and, for a time, we may feel our “self” open, exposed, alone and vulnerable: we struggle, in our aloneness, to make sense of our loss and our shifting sense of self. It is in this most painful process of reviewing relationships within the context of the whole death experience, that nature’s gift offers opportunities to grow. The growth surfaces as we reluctantly give voice to the existential awareness of the “terrible intimacy of grief”—the encroaching possibility that we are not quite who we thought we were. See full paper The Dance of Relationships
The Terrible Intimacy of Grief
As we focus on the time leading to the death and specifically examine how we participated in that process, we yield to what it reveals about us—often, we find ourselves wanting. We engage the mantra of regret that begins with “what-if” or “if-only” and we wonder why and what might have been. Sometimes we weigh ourselves on the scale of our inner critic, reflecting on the ways in which we violated our internal moral standard—a critical attribute of our self-identity. This questioning of oneself often leads to the ultimate unanswerable question: If I had done XYZ, would it have changed the trajectory of events and perhaps, more important, would it have changed the outcome? In short, could different actions have altered what was?
It is important to ask these questions and to be open to all answers or views that arise. We gradually acknowledge that we cannot change what was and, although humbled by it, we honor the truth as it surfaces and come to appreciate that the truth is not so much a condemnation of us as it is a testament to our limited human capacity to influence the course of life events. The gift of our grief moves us toward the inexorable resolution of our grief.
Toward Resolution and End of Our Grief Story
We come—eventually—to know that we do not have the power to change human destiny, that death does not play by our rules of “fairness”, that who we are is always in process, that the universe will unfold as it must and the unanswerable question of “why” is precisely that: unanswerable. We embrace the wisdom revealed in the terrible intimacy of grief and appreciate anew our evolving sense of self. We release the pain of our grief, holding fast to the memories connecting us—in a different way—to what was.
We acknowledge that it will take time, energy and patience to resolve the seeming contradictions, renew our sense of “self”, revitalize our vital energy and honor the rebirth of our optimism. And so, we embrace our human imperfections and inadequacies wrapped in the mystery and wonder of our humanness and within the shadow of inevitable and pervasive loss, we accept nature’s gift: grief—the internal healer. We walk the painful road of loss and grief, review what was, consign it to our personal history and make of that history a springboard—not an albatross—launching us toward what is yet to be.
Share your story as you ponder this question: How has the gift of grief awakened your introspection and self-exploration?