Our individual experience of grief is as unique as our DNA or fingerprint. While our shared humanity does trigger certain standard responses to the loss of a loved one, not all of us experience every one of them, or in the same order.
The Shock of Loss: “This is not happening to me.” Call it denial, shock or a feeling of being numbed, the grief response in this case is complete bewilderment. Everything freezes inside you. The words coming at you from a relative or friend about the death sound foreign, like a language you don’t know. None of us likes to feel this way, but the period of denial is nature wrapping its protective arms around us, so the enormity of loss lands as gently as possible.
The Anger of Abandonment: “Why me?” “Why now?” “Why this person who was the model of love and kindness and everything good?” Anger directed at the self, the dead, or God is totally normal. What is abnormal is trying to suppress it and donning a false mantle of strength when your insides are crumbling. Talking about your anger, punching a pillow, journaling, running, or joining a support group are all healthy outlets for the safe release of anger.
The Guilt of Inadequacy: “If only I’d told him…”, “Why didn’t I do enough to save her?”, “I wish I’d forgiven him for…” Guilt is a huge burden, and an unnecessary one, to carry around. The truth is that your loved one is in a realm where all is pure love and now sees you and all your acts of omission and commission in an entirely new light. A Hindu metaphor explains this well. A man walks into a dimly-lit room, finds a coiled snake on the floor and screams. Then he reaches out and turns on the light bulb. Now he sees that what he thought was a snake is actually a coiled rope. When he throws light on the situation he is able to see more clearly. But given the light he earlier had, all he saw was a snake. It is the same with us. We have to make peace with the idea that we did the best we could with what we knew and were capable of at the time. Only when we shine more light on the situation do other aspects come into sharp focus. It may be too late by then. Our loved one may have passed on. Let it go.
The Relief of Release: “I’m relieved she’s not suffering anymore.” This response is especially true if you’ve been the primary caregiver for a loved one suffering from a terminal illness or long-term debility. Oftentimes it’s harder to stand by and watch a loved one suffer than it is to live without them in the physical world. Accept the feeling of release and relief. Your loved one on the other side feels it too. And he/she will take delight in your emotional relief.
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