Experiencing the Gravity of Grief for Good
We all experience grief at some point in our life. Whether the loss is large or small, you may notice your heart sitting heavier in your chest or a pit in your stomach growing larger. Grief is a very real experience of the human heart, yet oftentimes is dismissed, minimized, or misunderstood. While it is not a process we look forward to, grief offers us a unique gift if we are willing to walk through it.
Grief is Not Just about Death
There is a common misconception about grief being related to losing someone to death. Grief isn’t just about loss related to death, but rather a grieving process takes place with any type of loss. Present, past, or anticipated losses create an opportunity for the heart to grieve. For instance, you may have been let go from a cherished job that you put your heart and soul into for many years. Or possibly you walked through a break up or even signed divorce papers both which signify a lost relationship. Perhaps you experienced receiving disheartening medical news or understand what it feels like to have unmet marital expectations. Regardless of your experience, large or small, it is vital to name and identify past, present, or expected losses and then grieve what that loss means to you (Wright, 2006). If we ignore the losses our hearts experienced, we lose the opportunity to receive the unique gift that grief can offer us.
Welcoming the Emotions
Grief brings a variety of emotions. It is common to feel anger, sadness, hurt, anxiety, and plenty of other feelings that make themselves at home in our heart after loss. “Oftentimes, we can think of our emotions as a nuisance, something to be tamed” (Thompson, 2010, p. 89). However, taming can lead to numbing or ignoring, which ultimately causes greater discomfort and higher levels of issues that keep us from living fully (Wright, 2006). Each feeling that we have has a specific purpose, and what we do with them will determine whether the emotion becomes a gift or an impairment to our well-being (Dodd, 2015). For the sake of time, I will not discuss each emotion, but rather, I will highlight the very common emotion that is found in grief: the emotion of sadness.
What is Sadness?
According to Chip Dodd, author of Voice of the Heart, “Sadness is the feeling that speaks to how much you value what is missed, what is gone, and what is lost. It also speaks of how deeply you value what you love…” (Dodd, 2015, p. 225). Sadness says to you that your heart is honoring what was, or what you hoped would be. What then is the gift that sadness offers?
Dodd states, “If we dare listen to our sadness and value the losses it declares, we awaken to the restoring power of grief. Grief, in turn, leads us to acceptance.” (Dodd, 2015, p. 231) Sadness can lead us toward healing and acceptance if we welcome it.
If we don’t give ourselves permission to feel it, or deny its company, we can experience self-pity: the impairment of sadness. Self-pity, in essence, attempts to make others feel what we refuse to feel (Dodd, 2015) and denies the voice of the heart. Still wondering why this is in impairment? Because our sadness does not go away, it just becomes misplaced. Denying the heart’s voice prohibits us from experiencing the healing and acceptance that is needed to live fully.
While it may be easier grieving were a linear process, it tends to come in waves like the ocean, and everyone’s ocean looks and feels a little different (Wright, 2006). My grief can look very different from your grief; however, both experiences are valid.
As Thompson (2010) states, “Emotions are not debatable” (p. 95). The size, weight, and timing of the loss are not to be compared to other grief journeys. For example, even if your loss is common or small comparatively, it does not negate the grief felt by it. Have you ever thought, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way because this is common?” I’ve heard this many times before; I have thought this myself. It’s easy to do, but no matter how common it is, your heart still desires to honor and value what was lost.
While the road to recovery from loss can be difficult and long, you are certainly not alone. Interpersonal neurobiology suggests that connecting with others, which offers feeling known and enjoyed, can create a dramatic change in your brain and become an agent of healing (Thompson, 2010). We are made for relationships, and while our grief may want to take us to those deep, isolating places, I encourage you to take steps towards community. Allow a trusted friend, spouse, therapist, or spiritual leader to walk alongside you in your grief journey because you were never meant to do it alone. Allowing others to come alongside you can enhance your steps of walking toward the healing.
Personal growth and connection to others are the gifts on the other side of the grief experience. While all losses are very painful, these gifts make the journey rich with meaning. Losses are inevitable in this life so I encourage you to take the content of this article to heart and deepen your personal understanding of how to deal with grief. Its well worth the effort.
Dodd, C. (2015). The Voice of the Heart: A Call to Full Living (2nd. Ed.) Sage Hill, LLC.
Thompson, C. (2010) Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections between Neuroscience and
Spiritual Practices That Can Transform Your Life and Relationships (26373rd ed.). Tyndale Momentum.
Wright, N. H. (2006). Recovering from Losses in Life. Revell.