Good Grief

By Ken Wells - 10/16/2021


Series Two; Blog Seventy-Two

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. ~Dr.Seuss

No matter who you are, you will struggle some day with sorrow. Virginia Satir was right when she said, “Life is not the way it is supposed to be. It is the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.” Most of us don’t do very well with grieving. Uncomfortably, we show tears, wipe them away and bury the deep loss inside while marching forward into the future. Some don’t even show tears. They simply stuff the sadness, become Stoic and appear as if they have it all together. For some, to do otherwise would be considered weak. Men are taught that tears are a demonstration of weakness. To be strong means maintaining a tough upper lip. Don’t flinch and act as if you are not devastated when facing sorrow.

For those who want to go deep, sorrow and grief are lifelong experiences. Although sorrow is not intended to dominate throughout your life, loss and grief are a part of the emotional landscape that must be engaged to be emotionally mature. Life is a tapestry of ups and downs. Success and failure are combined with bitter and sweet and are woven throughout the fabric of all human life. How we grieve is as individual as our lives.

Many people learn to medicate the grief experience with a cocktail of experience. Some numb out with alcohol and drug abuse. Others deaden the pain with professional career pursuit. Many become absorbed in their children’s activities, or church and social activities, or maybe all of the above. So often, many don’t learn to grieve because they never learned to recognize feelings of sadness and situations that would most likely produce the loss and the need to grieve. So many people are stuck and don’t know how to go deep with their sorrow.

Four Obstacles to Grieving:

  1. Cultural Pressure:  People experiencing loss often feel pressure to get over the grieving and get back to “normal.” Friends and family want them to get over the pain and get on with living. Some family members talk in terms of time limits for grieving. Mourners of loss feel the unspoken strain to put on a smile and perform like nothing is wrong while hiding the sorrow, and saving the grief for alone times.
  2. Many people who don’t know their own suffering feel awkward. They think they have to say the right thing and don’t know what to say. It only makes the person who is grieving feel more isolated. Some share that they feel like they have to take care of the person attempting to comfort them. They feel pressure to tell the comforter that their statement was OK, even though they feel like what was said was not helpful.
  3. The pain of grief: Sorrow is painful and we will do whatever we can to avoid and escape its grasp and avoid the deepest pain that comes with sorrow. Yet, no matter what we do, grief dogs our presence and demands that we address and embrace its experience. Actor Keanu Reeves said, “Grief changes shape but it never ends.” Golden Globe winner Michelle Williams said, “Grief is a moving river, it’s always changing. I would say in some ways it just gets worse. It’s just that the more time that passes, the more you miss someone.”
  4. Not knowing when the pain will end: Some people say they can endure almost any loss if they can just know when the pain will stop. With grief, it is impossible to predict when the acute pain of loss will subside. It is never when I think it would. John Irving described it this way, “When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time — the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes — when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever — there comes another day, and another specifically missing part”.

How to Go Deep with Sorrow:

Embrace your own darkness. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Many struggle to embrace sorrow because they have never embraced their own shortcomings and experience of darkness. People who have suffered with their own brokenness due to a loss don’t struggle with discomfort while in the presence of another’s tragic loss. They have been there. They know that it is not words that are necessary. It’s just presence. They are able to be present in the dark moments of another person’s sorrow because they have embraced their own.

Generate unconditional confidence: To go deep with sorrow, I have to journey down to have confidence I can come back up. There is no shortcut. When we feel forced to the edges of life and squeezed, know that if we sit with the fear, sadness, and struggle, we will find the confidence necessary to come back up.  There are times when hardship and sorrow are so great that it seems impossible to survive it. Yet, this is how total confidence is created. The confidence is whatever result life brings to us, we will be able to manage it.

Confidence comes from being knocked down and getting back up again and again. It is a deep confidence we earn when we embrace sadness, fear, and failure and learn the valuable lesson that we don’t control the results of life, only our response to it. Peace and surety requires that you embrace your sorrow wherever it takes you. Only then will you have the confidence that you can come back up no matter what you face.

Embrace vulnerability: Men learn to hide their emotional pain and fear behind machismo. To go deep with sorrow, you must shed the mask of machismo. You must become emotionally naked with fear, sadness and vulnerability. People go deep when they courageously learn to allow sorrow to do its deepest work. Often, we don’t because we fear we will fall apart and not survive the pain that sorrow brings.  Whenever someone chooses to embrace their own darkness and shed the mask of machismo that hides true feelings, they will create depth with genuine confidence that stands the test of time. In this way, you truly come full circle with sorrow and as Dr. Seuss declared, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

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