Saturday, March 3, 2012

The process of grieving

Family, for me, is not a set of people I was born to. Mine has shifted and morphed several times during my life. My mother has been married four times, and each time, the extension of "family", for lack of more precise terminology, changes. This last marriage has shifted long standing relationships into formal family relationships: she married her best friend's brother. None of this is actually important, it just provides the background and explanation for why my heart isn't invested in the sorrow I am relating. I do not know many of these "family members". I know who they are in relation to one another and to my mother, "cousin" (a friend of more than twenty years, my stepfather's niece), and my stepfather. Beyond that, they are literally strangers.

There was a death in this family. A young woman, only 25, died unexpectedly, and for this family it was a tragedy. I never met her, but I have had nearly her entire life time of knowing about her. My mother, stepfather and cousin are all grieving, and I ache for them, perhaps not as much as I could, but I understand that they hurt right now. Nothing I can say or do will ease this, and I am very aware of that.

Grieving is a process. It takes time; it ebbs and flows like the sea with high tides and low tides. It churns up long buried memories and leaves them on the shores of our psyche to find, like seashells. It is my belief that any sort of grief (for the loss of a relationship or the passing of an era of our lives or the assimilation of new knowledge), requires time, space and honesty to process fully. If we comb our thoughts for only the beautiful and treasured memories, while pushing aside and ignoring those things which are less beautiful, less shiny, we will not heal because we turn our memories into unreal images rather than preserving what was really there.

In my experiences with grief, I have found that in order to really move forward, I have to acknowledge and understand the whole person, the whole event, flaws, faults and all. I had to be angry at times, laugh at others. I needed to acknowledge that other people make decisions I don't like, don 't understand and never would have made, because they are simply different people than I am. Their circumstances, their world view, their heart constrain and influence their choices, and it has nothing to do with how they felt about me. I have to embrace the things I loved about them and complete their image in my heart, then I need to let them go, accept that I am not a superhero, that I am not responsible for their actions, their path, and then, I accept the bitter sweetness of the completion of a life cycle.

Grief hurts, but it can lead us to a serenity and understanding once we accept it, journey with it and then bid it farewell. When it time to grieve, let the tears fall, in whatever quantity they come, but let the laughter, the anger, the fear, the compassion and the understanding in too.  Grief never travels alone, but we often forget to acknowledge his companions. Like any other emotions, if ignored, they will find a way to get our attention.

If you are grieving, for any reason, my love goes out to you. I wish you healing and the ability to accept the past for what it was, so that you may build a beautiful future on a sturdy, strong foundation of your past.

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