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When a loved one passes from our lives, the most common question we hear (both from ourselves and from those around us) involves the word "why". In the early days, it's part of "why did this happen?" And as we settle in to our grief, it becomes part of "why does it hurt so much?" It's possible the question then changes to the more philosophical inquiry, "why do we grieve?"
Grief is a natural part of our lives, and affects all aspects of our existence. It can cause us physical pain; and yet bring us to a deeper understanding of the true value and meaning of life. Grief can be very hard work; taking significant amounts of energy, it is a major force for change in our lives. We grieve naturally; which to us means it is a natural way for us to grow stronger and more resilient. But that certainly doesn't mean it's a pleasant path to take; no one chooses bereavement–it chooses us.
Loss of any kind–whether it's the loss of a treasured piece of jewelry; the end of a marriage or much-needed job–especially the death of a loved one, leaves a hole in our lives. One that we often don't know how to fill; or even if we want to be made whole again. In her book, Written on the Body, author Jeanette Winterson captured this unwillingness when she wrote, "To lose someone you love is to alter your life forever. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?" In short, when we grieve, we hold tightly to our memories; which helps us to fill the hole, or the 'gap' as Ms. Winterson calls it. But it doesn't put an end to our distress. And there are two sound reasons for the anguish we know as grief.
First we grieve simply because we loved. This someone special played an integral role in our life, and we treasured their presence. It takes courage to love a person deeply, because there's a small part of us that knows our time here is finite; loss is an inevitable aspect of all human relationships. And it takes courage to grieve, when the loss occurs.
Second, we grieve for ourselves. Because we have been painfully deprived of someone we love dearly, someone we very much need; our world has been rocked to the core. It makes sense that time would be spent grieving for ourselves. After all, the family member we've lost is beyond all suffering; we may even see them now dwelling in a far better place. But for those left behind, the suffering has only begun. There's every reason to grieve, for the life we knew; the life we enjoyed before the passing of our loved one, is over.
In short, our grief is made more difficult by fear and insecurity. As we mention on the page "Experiencing Grief", grief is a complex set of emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual reactions to loss; and amid this complexity, there's fear. It may come from the generalized sense of disorientation which occurs in the very early days after loss. Picture the experience of grief as an amusement park House of Mirrors. With its maze-like corridors and distorted mirrors; just a few minutes in such a place can leave one feeling completely lost and bewildered. Which way to turn? We spin and turn, looking for the right path–the path back to normalcy–and naturally feel fear. It may also be the result of insecurity. The solid ground underneath our life is crumbling, and it feels there's nothing to hold on to. Our ordered life has turned to disorder, and there's nothing anyone can do about it.
And then there are the labors of grieving. What counselors call "grief work" involves finding ways to put our loss in perspective and then weaving the loss (and what we've learned from the experience) into the tapestry which is our life. Again asking you to use your imagination; see grief work as a journey. Not along some well-trodden path, no; in this, we cannot follow someone else's path. Each of us must become a trailblazer; removing obstacles, and enduring harsh conditions along the way.
We leave our old life; and for a time we wander; forging a path in the gap between the life now gone, and the new one we have yet to create. This is a time of struggle and compromise, where we repeatedly find ourselves taking one step forward and then two steps back. It's a time (of unforeseeable duration) when our thinking isn't always clear; instead it is clouded by the strong emotions–and sometimes very real physical symptoms–of bereavement. Finally, we enter the third phase of the grief journey: that time of experimentation and re-creation. It's a time when we try things on, so to speak; slipping slowly and hesitantly into a new reality. In a word, grief is "transformative"; it changes you forever. And transformation is very hard work, indeed.
And it affects us all differently. It's easy to see how the answer to the question "Why do we grieve?" is both complicated and very specific to each of us; yet (as you've seen) there are two reasons why we grieve: because we loved deeply, and because life as we'd known it to be is over. But knowing that doesn't always help us endure along the path. If you are grieving the death of a beloved family member and feel the need for additional grief support, please call us at (519) 941-1392. We will do everything we can to assist you.