Grief. It’s one of those subjects that generally most of us normally don't want to talk about or think about. It can bring up so many challenging, difficult, and uncomfortable feelings within us. Yet, if we’re really honest, grief in some form is a very natural and universal part of our lives here, having this human experience. And that’s why I think it is so important that we bravely allow ourselves to be uncomfortable for just a little while in order to better reflect on it and how we can manage it in our own lives.
I’ve personally experienced many different forms of grief in my life, which I will briefly detail a bit more later. So you’re in luck, because I have a treasure trove of seeds that I’d love to share with you here! :)
Less than 50 years ago, a woman named Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote about and helped to popularize what we may now have heard of as the “five stages of grief.” Kübler-Ross used five specific words for each of these stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. She described how not all stages may occur within each grief experience, and that the stages may vary or appear out of order, also specific to each grief experience.
Although there are varied opinions of Kübler-Ross’s grief theories, I believe they can act as a great starting point for us to better understand some of the huge variety of emotions we may feel throughout a grief experience. I believe that the five stages can describe some of the emotions we may experience, but I believe that there can be many, many more.
I also believe that grief is both so very universal and at the same time so very personal to each of us. Further, I believe that grief is not only personal to each of us, but that it is also personal within us based on so many variable factors. I believe that these factors can potentially include but are not limited to the following:
- who or what we have lost
- our own very personal relationship with or to who or what we have lost
- our current stage in life and how we view that stage
- our current philosophies or beliefs about life and loss (which can include our current religious, spiritual, non-religious, non-spiritual, or any other personal guiding belief principles)
- our current ways of relating to others around us and to society and the world as a whole
- our current ways of relating to our thoughts and emotions
- our current understanding of our own coping mechanisms
- our current space of willingness to question ourselves and our current philosophies and beliefs and to open to expanded principles about ourselves, others, and life in general
Wow—that’s a lot! Now, I’m not going to discuss each of those potential factors at length, as they could easily become singular reflections all their own! But I wanted to present them so that we can better understand just how complex and individual a grief process can be, and so that we can find comfort in knowing that we’re not alone if we have had a grief experience that has involved us feeling like we are perhaps in emotional overload, great confusion, or even not feeling very much at all.
Because all those factors I just mentioned (and maybe more) may or may not be involved in various ways in our grief experiences, it does not surprise me that we may sometimes feel at a loss when trying to make sense of them! But although it can certainly be challenging, I also believe that there are a few very important principles we can keep in the backs of our minds when considering grief in our modern world.
First of all, I really believe that grief can show up in many forms in our lives. It is obvious to many of us that we may experience it during or after the loss of a loved one. But personally, I believe that grief can happen at so many other times in our lives, times when we may not specifically consider associating it with what we may be experiencing or feeling.
For instance, a divorce or separation can be a loss that may trigger a grief experience. So might a job loss, whether voluntary or involuntary. A health crisis can also be a loss, as there may be a big adjustment and transition into a new phase of our lives, one that involves understanding and managing a health issue and possibly seeking ways to resolve it.
A move to a new physical location can be a loss. So can a change of schools if one is a student. A loss or change of friendship can definitely be a loss. A loss of or change in some sort of social community can also bring grief. A big change within the family, such as a separation of other family members or an illness of another family member, can also trigger a grief experience, whether we are children or adults at the time.
Sometimes, we may experience a sense of loss when someone that we love changes in a certain way from the person we “knew” them to be, who now may exhibit either previously hidden and/or newly-becoming aspects of their personality that are very new to us. Sometimes we can experience this loss less directly, for instance, if we discover or hear about someone we’ve known to be a certain way, who we may learn may be more multidimensional than we may have realized. Even more, sometimes we can experience this kind of sense of loss if we ourselves are growing and relating to our own selves differently! :)
We can also experience a sense of loss, perhaps at times repeatedly, if we may mistakenly hope that someone can be something different to us or for us than who they currently are showing themselves to be. Even though we can know theoretically that we can’t change another person, we may still experience grief if we believe somehow that we can change them or that they will voluntarily change themselves.
A traumatic event of any kind may also trigger a grief experience. And especially in our current society, with the frequency of many widely publicized traumatic events and tragedies, we may experience a sense of a collective grief or loss, maybe to a point where we feel numbed by how often it happens.
In short, we may see here that any type of major change, many involving our individual or collective environments or relationships with others, can potentially trigger a grief experience. This is when understanding my next main principle can really come in handy.
Overall, as a society, I greatly feel that we lack deep emotional understanding and management skills. That is why I believe it is crucial for us to understand that during grief and during life in general, our emotions can be wonderful guideposts on our journeys. They don’t have to be scary enough to be avoided, or foreign to us. However, there seems to be so many times in society when we receive messages that tell us exactly the opposite.
We may be taught to be “strong,” which often can imply that we shouldn’t feel our feelings. We may be taught to care for and be worried about everyone else around us, to the point where we may have little energy to even begin to sort out our own feelings. We may be taught, directly or indirectly, that feelings “get in the way” in our lives, in ways that they may distract us from our work and from all of the things we do every day. We may not think we have time to understand our feelings, or we may actually feel numb or in shock from a big change in our lives and not really know how to feel. But yet, our feelings are there, often affecting us whether we take time to understand them or not!
We may feel that we have to put on some kind of front to others around us, to strangers, or even to our own selves, that we have it all together, that nothing is ever wrong, or even if it would be, that we could handle it just fine. We may be taught, without realizing it, to compare our struggles to the struggles of those around us or in other parts of the world. In comparing, we may feel that someone else may have it much worse, and in turn, brush off or ignore our own real and important feelings. We may also hear messages that tell us that we should only feel positive, hopeful, and optimistic about our lives. While messages like those can definitely be encouraging, if we're honest, we all have times in our lives where we may feel completely the opposite!
Even more important, somehow in this life we may have been taught, directly or indirectly, that our feelings don’t matter. We may have been shamed by others for having some of our own natural feelings, so we may have learned not to show them and very possibly not to talk about them. We may have learned from others, maybe from early on and very possibly through living our adult lives, that certain feelings are acceptable to have, to show, or to discuss and that others are not. And due to some of our own life experiences, we may have come to a point where we might actually tell ourselves that our feelings don’t matter, are not acceptable, or are too scary to understand.
What I have found, as someone who experiences many of her feelings on a very deep level, is that our feelings are only “good” or “bad,” and “right” or “wrong” when we judge them to be so. Otherwise, without our judgment, they are really just neutral feelings, waiting in our hearts, wanting to share with us something about this life experience we’re having. They really don’t have to be so frightening. It is we who may sometimes judge them to be so.
I so believe that feeling our emotions, especially in a safe space where we can feel them and decide whether or not to act on them, is so vitally important to all of our lives. I think that if we choose, with or without realizing it, not to feel, understand, or accept our emotions, they can come out in so many other ways in our lives, not all of which may be healthy for us or for others around us.
I know I have experienced this happening firsthand in my own life. And although accepting my emotions was challenging and still can be at times, it is because of so much of my own growth that I know that I am able to have the levels of overall peace and joy that I experience now.
We may find that in working with our emotions, not everyone may understand us, and although difficult, that really can be okay. Because in my humble opinion, ultimately what matters the most is that we learn better to understand ourselves and to help create lives which we feel truthful about living.
If we could simply go to that deep, deep place within our hearts that knows that we are okay, that all of who we are is okay, including our deepest feelings, we may be able to better accept and process some of these challenging feelings related to grief and so many other things. But so often, we are taught that we are not okay for all of who we are. If we have been lucky to have been taught that we are, we may still doubt our own acceptance and worth as life goes on and we have challenging experiences along the way.
This brings me to my last principle relating to grief, and also relating to life in general. Because I really believe that grief, along with any kinds of challenges and growth opportunities, can be just as much a part of this amazing human experience as everything else. I also believe that it is sometimes through our greatest challenges when we can learn some of our most important life lessons that can guide us through the rest of our lives in amazing ways, if we choose to let them do so.
The final principle I want to emphasize is this: Although we all experience grief so very differently and perhaps due to many different circumstances, we are all human beings, overall worthy and capable of listening to and offering support to ourselves and to others. We are also all worthy of receiving support from ourselves and from others.
Now, when I say support, I don’t necessarily mean direct understanding. Often times it seems that when someone we know has experienced a loss or major challenge of some kind, we may feel awkward and uncomfortable, not knowing what to say to them if we haven’t had that particular experience ourselves. But to me, it is not so important if another person has had the same particular experience as I have. Chances are great that they have not, for even if the experience was exactly the same, they likely may have processed it completely differently!
So if we can accept that we don’t have to know what to say, but that simply listening to and/or being there for others can be enough, we could unite so much more as human beings supporting each other. We may simply offer the following, “I may not understand what you’re going through, but I’m here for you.” We may simply let go of any of our own hopes to understand, and we may choose to be a listener or a support in any other way to someone who may need it, if they wish to be supported. Sometimes, just knowing that someone else is there for us can be extremely validating and reassuring, whether we are experiencing grief or not! :)
If we are the ones going through the grief or challenge, we can understand that others may very likely not be able to directly relate to what we are going through, but that their support can be enough. Sometimes we ourselves may not understand all the feelings we are feeling as we go through a grief experience! Thankfully, because of our ever-growing global connection, we have more opportunities now than ever before to seek out others who may have had even slightly similar experiences as we have, so that we can know that we are not alone, even if we may feel that way at times.
If we can let others support us and just be there for us as we go through our challenges without expecting direct understanding from them, we can choose to receive their support and truly feel that in doing so, our feelings and our experiences can be heard and that they matter. Because, ultimately, I so believe that all of our feelings and experiences matter, regardless of how challenging they may be.
Thank you for sticking with me today in reading this reflection. I know that this can be heavy material to reflect on, but heavy things can and often do happen during our lives. That’s why I feel it’s so important that we take time to reflect on them and to understand them better.
On a personal note, I myself have experienced many different kinds of grief experiences and challenging periods in my life. If you’ve come across my short biography on my website, you may have noticed that I mention that I have lost both of my parents. With my father, I experienced a short grief process. He died suddenly, and I found that I personally grieved his loss quickly and without a lot of emotional complications. With my mother, I experienced a slower, extended grief process, as I found I was able to grieve while she progressed through a chronic illness.
After my mother's death, I experienced much peace right after her passing and then was led into what is sometimes termed “unfinished business,” due to the complexity of the relationship I had with her. The process of resolving this unfinished business led me to re-evaluate many areas of my life and to make many personal inner changes which I feel have led me to so much of my present overall peaceful, contented state of being.
In addition, I’ve also had quite a full life of other grief experiences which include job losses and changes, long-distance location moves, losses of friendships, school changes, a moderately significant health crisis, loss of the direct connection to my most immediate family, and many other losses of different communities and groups I’ve been a part of. I’ve also had experiences that have included major shifts in my own expectations and hopes relating to myself and to others, specifically to my mother.
I share these details of my journey with you from a truly deeply peaceful space, with no feelings of judgement, blame, or upset attached. I share these details not to overwhelm you but simply to give you perspective on the varied experiences of my life that prompt me to contemplate grief in the ways that I have shared with you in this reflection.
I want to assure you that after all I've been through, I know that there is light at the end of the tunnel of a grief experience. But here's one big secret I've found along the way: Grief and change can ultimately be two of our greatest teachers, because they remind us to give our own lives meaning.
Now, that doesn't mean that we can't or shouldn't find meaning in sharing life with others. We are social creatures, after all! But what I've learned is that grief and big change can ask us to re-evaluate the balance we have in our current lives between finding meaning only with others and creating our own meaning in our lives.
I feel so often that many of us (myself included!) can get so used to searching for meaning outside of ourselves, including through having the enrichment of others in our lives, that we can easily and quickly lose touch with ourselves. We can get so swept into loving and giving to and finding meaning from others, as wonderful as those experiences can be, that we can forget that we are equally as worthy of finding our own meaning from within ourselves. And I think that if we can keep growing in equalizing that balance between giving our own lives meaning and finding meaning through including other people, places, or things, we can indeed come through our grief and change experiences over time and begin to see that light at the end of the tunnel. Trust me--it is not only possible, but it can be real. And that light, when we start to see it, can be more glorious than we ever could have previously imagined. :)
In summary, grief can indeed be complex, yet it can be so interwoven into the experiences of our lives. That is why I think it’s so important to discuss and reflect on these deep topics openly and honestly, and so important to know that all of our emotions, whatever they may be, are okay and that they do matter. I'm so grateful that you've taken the time and have shown the courage to do this with me today.
When we create our own truthful lives, we are better equipped not only to manage our own emotions as they arise, but to more kindly, compassionately, and peacefully hold space for others we encounter as they experience their own challenges. And being able to find peace within our own hearts and hold peaceful space for others are two huge qualities that I truly believe will help all of us in this challenging, amazing, high-strung, wonderful, hurting, and loving world.
Your feelings matter. Your experiences matter. And most of all, you matter. You, and all of the glorious simplicity and complexity you are made of, matter. And you are so, so worthy of growing in your understanding of yourself and taking the time to discover and to create meaning in your own life, no matter who or what else may or may not be in it at any given time. You are worth it.
You are also worthy of receiving support in many possible ways, and you are worthy and enough to offer support to others who may need it. We are all individual beings, having individual experiences, all of which are also so universally human at their cores, connecting all of us in such deep ways. We are all worthy of offering and of receiving love, whether through grief or at any other time in life. :) And isn’t that amazing?
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No matter what, always remember this: You are deserving, you are worthy, and you are good enough. Keep being you, keep shining, and keep growing!
With great love,