Rewriting The Grief Narrative

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Of course grief is boundlessly painful when we had a healthy, happy relationship with the person lost to us. But it’s also boundlessly painful when we had an unhealthy, unhappy relationship with the person lost to us, because we realize at some level of awareness if we’re feeling forgiving that our chance has passed us by to make things right or if we’re feeling vengeful to get even.

The relationship will forever be coded as ‘unhealthy’ with no chance at redemption or revenge. Or will it? Actually just because someone is no longer living doesn’t mean our relationship with this person is no longer living, as anyone stuck in the throes of grief will attest.

And anyway we are the living embodiment of our ancestors, and we in turn will be the living embodiment of future generations. We’re all going to die soon, there’s no getting around that. We do live on in the thoughts, feelings, words, and actions of those we impact. And those we have been impacted by, in wanted or unwanted ways, live on in us.

With that said, if you had an unhealthy, unhappy relationship with someone close to you who has passed away it’s not too late for redemption, not too late to improve things, not too late to transform that relationship into something healthy and happy because for better or worse that person is still alive in you and always will be.

An essential part of rewriting the grief narrative in these cases is to stop falling victim to selection bias, to stop focusing most or all of your attention on the unwanted, negative, unhappy instances that marred your relationship and to start carving out a psychic place for the wanted, positive, happy instances that surely occurred many times over the course of your lives together but remain hidden from view right now because they don’t jive with the dominant narrative of the relationship being unhappy and unhealthy.

You don’t need to ignore the bad, only to allow the good to take its rightful place in your story together. You can make a list of your best memories with this person, of times this person helped you or was there for you when you needed it, of times this person showed courage or tenacity or other positive traits in the face of life adversity. Remember that most of us really are trying the best we can with what we have right now. Remember that if the person you lost was struggling and suffering then those good things they did for you, those positive traits and behaviors, those happy memories, are even more impressive than they would be in the case of someone who is happy and self-actualized. The idea is not to try to stamp out the bitter feelings but to allow love and gratitude to enter the equation too by letting yourself see a fuller picture, a picture more in line with objective reality. Those wanted, positive, happy instances are there, underneath all that mud and dirt, waiting to be mined.

When you allow love and gratitude to enter the equation you allow forgiveness to enter the equation too. And with forgiveness comes healing, the kind of healing where you can actually move forward with your life rather than remaining bitterly stuck on all the ways you were hurt and never got satisfaction for those wounds. You can’t heal your wounds by inflicting more damage on yourself or anyone else though. You can only heal your wounds by treating yourself and others gently, by cultivating love and forgiveness. When this love and forgiveness spring out of your lost relationship previously defined by bitterness and negativity you transform the whole situation and you start to pass on the very best, rather than the very worst, of the person who has passed away.