The Wonderland of Grief and Loss
Maurice Turmel PhD
The land of Grief and Loss is not a particularly favorable destination but one that we cross paths with on a regular basis throughout our lifetime. We are rarely ready for this. In our culture, so much has gone into the Denial of Death that we find ourselves at a loss when the real thing comes along.
Let's take a closer look, shall we.
When a death occurs in our sphere of influence, we, the bereaved of the world, find ourselves in some kind of wonderland that we can't explain. This is a special place, an unusual place, outside the mainstream of our regular day to day existence.
We've been thrown into this land called Grief & Loss by the sudden and/or unexpected death of a loved one. Unexpected here means unprepared, unwitting and most assuredly, unwanted.
We are lost and afraid. We don't know our way around this territory. It feels strange. It feels almost Hollywood like in the same sense that it seems so surreal.
When we land here, unexpectedly, and usually suddenly, we are told by others what to expect, what could happen, and what one might feel under the circumstances.
At the funeral home there are people who travel this road regularly because its their business. They usually look pale and sad, almost zombie like, because that's the nature of this environment. The clothes they wear are as dark as the mood they convey. These caretakers of the dead and of us in grief know this journey all too well. They are always quite respectful of we, the uninitiated. In their world, death and grieving are a straightforward circumstance that they see every day.
To all of us, now in the throes of grief, this death and dying business is an aberration, like falling off a cliff emotionally speaking, something we don't encounter on a regular basis, and therefore, alien to our usual life circumstances. The experience of death and grieving is also something we are often repelled by and dragged into kicking and screaming regardless that it is a mainstay of our collective destiny.
So here we are in this Wonderland called Grief & Loss feeling things we don't want to feel, experiencing emotions that are quite powerful and overwhelming and far outside our usual array of daily life experiences. We are forced by these circumstances to gather in places we don't want to be in, talk about emotions we don't want to discuss, while checking our watches to pinpoint the right moment for our exit. We are face to face with a deceased loved one, a friend, a partner, a relationship that is now terminally broken.
We will never see this person again. We will not speak with them, receive emails from them, or connect again in any fashion we had become used to over the course of our lives. A big hole has opened up inside and it is filling with grief emotions we can't seem to control.
What do we do with ourselves now? Initially at least we appear to sleepwalk through the process. These are early days of grief and loss where the emotions are powerful and the mood is dark. We are surrounded with mists of doubt, feelings of abandonment, self-admonishment perhaps – a whole host of pejoratives that we're busy conjuring up to try and make sense of this reality we now face.
Guilt, shame, sadness and weeping are all part of this process, this wonderland experience. It is at such times where we find out things about ourselves we'd rather not admit to, things about the deceased we were never privy to, a whole host of revelations that might have remained buried were this person still with us now. The ground underneath us is shaking and continues to move.
Welcome to the Wonderland of Grief & Loss. This place is vastly different from your regular life circumstances and you shall remain here for some time to come.
Time heals all? Not True!
Time heals if we do the work of acknowledging our feelings and working through them. These powerful emotions are extremes in the feeling range of life and they are upon us like a large dark cloud which has settled in for some time to come, whatever may be the duration of this process.
These extremes of emotional experiencing will pass eventually because all healing processes have beginnings and endings that are somewhat predictable. As the grieving work is accomplished the dark cloud eventually breaks up and then dissipates. This is the Wonderland of Grief & Loss.
Your stay in this valley of experience may be brief or long, depending on whom was lost and your attachment to that individual. Such events are always memorable even when filed away in the psychological closets we prefer not to visit. For those open to the experience and willing to embrace what needs to be done, there are lessons here that can deliver growth experiences unattainable anywhere else.
For those of you willing to do the work, make sure you say your prayers, whatever they may be and ask for the guidance and support you truly deserve. That will be forthcoming in whatever form suits you best.
Talk about the loss with your friends. See a therapist if that's required. Join a grief recovery group. Give yourself every benefit that's readily available. And this too shall pass. You will survive and you'll grow stronger as a result of having done the work.
That's the message here, dear friends. The work has to be done or you will drag these ill effects with you far into the future, tainting every aspect of your life experience with this unattended sadness and remorse that simply begs for acknowledgment and release.
If you're still feeling stuck, ask yourself this:
“What would my deceased family member / loved one want for me in this circumstance? How would they want me to proceed?" Or, if the tables were turned and you were looking at them while they were grieving you, what would you urge them to do for themselves? Then govern yourself accordingly.
Its an alien place at first, this Wonderland of Grief & Loss – but only at first. Soon we realize that this experience comes and goes like the seasons and we will pass here many times throughout our life journey before we come to our own final goodbye.
Give yourself what you need and you'll manage it all quite well. Then you'll be surprised at how quickly the grieving recedes once you've undertaken the healing process as a whole. The smiles will be back. The joy of living will return. Even your lost loved one will come to be viewed as an asset in the winding journey of your life, a person now easily called to memory with fondness and love. Win Win!