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Friday, 24 June 2011

The work of grief

The old adage says, "Time heals all wounds." Nothing could be further from the truth. There are still huge holes in my being where people I loved belong. Bearing the pain of their loss becomes less oppressive, but only over a long period of time. Making the pain more manageable (note I do not say, "making the pain go away"), involves being willing to engage it, rather than avoid it. All of us find it easier to numb the pain - with drugs, alcohol, busy-ness, or other consuming passions. And, of course, life does go on, with its demands and responsibilities. We do, to some degree, have to move past the initial, immobilizing pain of our bereavement.
The essential thing to know, however, is that our grief is not so easily dismissed. In the first few months of bereavement we will be forced by our own consciousness into a gradual awareness of the fact that our beloved is dead. Our culture would have us do away even with the word "dead," in favour of "passed on", or some other euphemism. Yet our minds slowly, reluctantly, stubbornly force us to realize that our world has fundamentally changed. In the midst of our attempts to numb the pain, we hear a song, we catch a scent, we revisit a well-loved cafe, and suddenly we find ourselves overwhelmed by grief. Perhaps the hardest moments are the milliseconds when our hearts stop because we have seen our beloved in a crowd, or in a passing car. We know he or she is dead, but our mind is still yearning in such a profound way, that we think we actually see, just for a second, the one we love so much.
In our death-denying, grief-denying world we may be tempted to think that we must be going crazy. Yet, what is actually happening is that we are being brought face to face with the reality of deep grief. It is at this point that we can begin to engage our grief, to welcome it, to allow it the space, time, attention it deserves. It is at this point that we can begin to do the work necessary to make our pain an integral part of our lives. The pain and loss are ours, anyway. Far better to engage it and be transformed by it, than to numb it.

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