“We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world — the company of those who have known suffering.” — Helen Keller
In the aftermath of a tragedy—be they our own or a nation’s—we are often overcome with grief. It hard to ignore it?
Grief is a complex process that takes many forms. When a mass tragedy occurs, not only do we grieve for the victims, but we also re-grieve from previous losses we’ve suffered. And when a parent dies, we grieve the past that dies, too. When a spouse dies, the present disappears. A child who dies takes a parent’s future with him.
During grief it is common to have many conflicting feelings: sorrow, anger, loneliness, anxiety, even guilt. Experiencing waves of these strong and often confusing emotions can make us feel out of control. In an attempt to regain a sense of control, we may deny the feelings.
Well-meaning friends and family may suggest looking on the bright side, or that what happened was “God’s will” or “meant to be.” In many ways this is a reflection of your friends and families discomfort sitting with a person grieving and not being able to take away their pain.
Sometimes in our efforts to make sense of everything, we may attempt to remain focused on the notion that “maybe everything is for the best.” Any of these suggestions, however, may lead the grieving person to cut off feelings or to feel pressured to hide or deny their emotions. This will only cause the process to take longer and get in the way of healing.
In our culture, we often assume if something is painful, it must be bad. Yet suppressing these feelings and denying the need to grieve can be even harder on both the mind and body than going through the emotions. Pain is a natural part of the grieving process and, if we are to heal, we must allow it.
Our culture also does not allow for the natural ebb and flow of grief. We give people a few weeks if they are lucky and then expect them to bounce back. But grief has its own time scale and for each it is different. They are days when we are feeling better and then all of a sudden, a memory is evoked and we feel we are back in the depths of pain again.
The reality is that with death comes change and the making of a new reality. We cannot go back to how things were and so we have to learn to live with the loss we have experienced and realize things will never be the same. This is why it takes time.
We can help one another during the grieving process by talking about our feelings and listening to each other. Friends, family and especially support groups can provide invaluable comfort.
I am a passionate believer in the importance of ritual. Lighting candles, gathering together for services or memorials, praying or singing together can provide an outlet for grief.
Spending time in nature can offer solace. Nature allows us to experience the ongoing cycle of the life/death process, and in this we may be able to connect to the larger order of the universe.
Writing in a journal or writing letters provides a place for us to set our feelings down in a concrete, physical way. Writing to the deceased allows us to say goodbye if we didn’t have the opportunity. Even though we may not have known them, writing letters to strangers for whom we grieve can be healing.
Ask for help. You may need the guidance of a professional grief counselor or therapist to help you work through the deep and sometimes confusing emotions that accompany the grieving process. The most difficult times may come months after the actual loss.
So take time and if you are a friend of someone who is grieving, be present and know that what is important is not the words you use, as there are no magic words, rather it is your presence and willingness to sit with your friend in their pain.
“Give the sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” – William Shakespeare, Macbeth
You may also like this YouTube video I recently recorded which explores why music makes us so emotional.