Grieving The Right Way

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The human reaction to tragic loss is deep and complex. Grief is an assault that hits us from all sides all at once. The pain affects mind, body, and soul, the symptoms we experience are physical, emotional, and psychological.

No wonder so many of us do anything and everything in our power to ignore the grief, bury the grief, turn our backs on the grief. Our grief feels like the enemy. What ally would subject us to this sort of pain, the kind of pain that seems too heavy to bear no matter how broad our shoulders might be?

So it might sound wrong when I tell you here and now that grief is not your enemy. It’s your friend, your best friend in the world actually. A good friend tells you the truth, even when you don’t want to hear that truth, even when that truth is hard to stomach. But a good friend cares about you enough to risk it, to tell you not what you want to hear but what you need to hear. And if you have the courage to really listen, to process what’s been said, you’ll make important behavioral changes that positively influence the course of your life.

Well, your grief is the ultimate truth teller. No artifice, no subtlety, no beating around the bush, just straight shooting, visceral, real information. It’s essential for you to realize that grief is not dysfunctional, not wrong, not something to be medicated, buried, or managed. Grief is the authentic, healthy, natural, human reaction to loss.

That’s why, as I’ve written many times before, the granite rule of grieving is to let yourself experience all your swirling thoughts, feelings, and sensations without censure or judgment. Your grief is attempting to send you a message of absolute truth in the only language it knows how to speak, and if you don’t summon up the courage to open yourself up fully you’ll never receive that transmission. If you don’t receive the transmission the loss you’ve experienced will be in vain, will have no greater meaning, will produce little else than suffering and despair.

Our Western culture places special value on white knuckling it, on gritting it out, on putting on a brave face, on a rugged individualism where any sign of vulnerability is perceived as weakness. But when it comes to grieving our culture has it completely backwards. It’s not courageous to bury the grief and pretend as if everything is okay. That behavior is actually cowardice, it’s motivated by fear, by not wanting to feel vulnerable in the face of the grief tidal wave threatening to wash over us and drown us. The true courage is opening ourselves up to the grief tidal wave, it’s letting ourselves be vulnerable, be receptive, to the messages of truth embedded within the grief.

These messages of truth are different for each and every one of us because we’re all on different life paths, we all have different family histories, different genes, different temperaments, different unresolved traumas, different goals, and different blind spots.

But I think where the message is the same, regardless of the individual situation, is that if you listen deeply what you’ll hear your grief telling you in no uncertain terms is “It’s time for you to become your most authentic Self. It’s time for you to come to terms with aging and your own eventual death so that you can start living your fullest life now. It’s time to let go of your grudges, your resentments, your hostilities. It’s time to forgive yourself and to forgive anyone else who has wronged you. It’s time for you to put more time and effort into improving your existing relationships. It’s time for you to choose love and happiness. It’s time for you to gain the courage to walk your own unique path despite your doubts and insecurities. It’s time for you to be truthful with yourself. It’s time for you to say what you need to say to the important people in your life. It’s time to say goodbye. And time is oh so short. There’s not a moment to waste!”

I know that if you, my dear reader, can summon up the courage and resolve to let all those painful thoughts, feelings, and sensations in rather than turning away from them through your typical escapist behaviors you’ll start to hear your grief communicating those same messages and much more besides. Since those messages emanate from deep within you, from your most authentic place, you’ll have no doubt whatsoever about their veracity and you’ll almost effortlessly start to make the changes you need to make to start living a life that is yours.

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