Grief is not a subject I have written much about, but it is something we all experience in micro and macro forms. None of us escape this life without facing loss.
Recently, I attended a seminar on loss and grief with world-renowned author, David Kessler. He is the protégé of Elisabeth Kubler Ross, who wrote the international bestselling book, On Death And Dying*, where she first discussed the five stages of grief. Elisabeth passed away in 2004.
In 2020, David Kessler wrote a follow-up book, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief*. His work focuses on more than loss through death. It includes the losses people experience through divorce, breakups and betrayals.
For anyone who has experienced a recent or past loss, he is the foremost expert on healing from grief. I highly recommend his book and his website, Grief.com, which is chock full of resources, information and videos. Bob and I lost two family members this past year and our 17-year-old beloved dog, Archie. David Kessler’s work has been invaluable to me.
The pandemic has created world-wide trauma and loss for every person on the planet. Though each of us has experienced loss in different ways, it’s been the most difficult year I can ever recall in my lifetime.
In David’s seminar, he described micro and macro losses. Here are some of the points he made that I wanted to share with you:
- There is no “right” way to grieve. We all grieve differently. It’s quite individual like our fingerprints.
- We don’t “get over” grief. When someone asks David, “How long is my partner going to grieve for their loss?” he responds, “How long is that person going to be dead?”
- The worst grief is your own. Don’t compare your grief to another’s. Don’t discount your grief if you think yours is “not as bad” as someone else’s. The world is big enough for all our losses.
- Find security in your grief. None of us get through life without experiencing it. Grief is okay. Let yourself feel it and express it.
- Some people hold their tears inside. They are afraid if they start crying, they will never stop. That is impossible. Allow yourself to cry. If you don’t, your body will take it on.
- The “pain” of grief is your “love” for that person.
- Finding “meaning” in a loved one’s death, doesn’t mean it’s okay that they died or that there was a reason they died.
- “Meaning” is what we make out of the loss, how we carry it forward.
- Death ends a life, not a relationship, not love.
- There is no good answer to the question “why or what if.” Stop asking it.
- When we lose a person we love, we have to establish a new relationship with them. We must answer the question, “How do we love them in their absence?”
- Loss changes our identity and makes us wonder, “Who am I without this person in the world?”
- There are stages of loss:
- Preparatory grief is anticipating grief.
- Acute grief is about the first 6-9 months.
- Early grief is the first two years.
- Mature grief is when we make meaning out of the loss.
- Our response to grief is shaped by our history and how loss was dealt with in our families of origin. Was it discussed? Hidden? Swept under the rug?
- We live in a grief-illiterate society. It makes us uncomfortable. We aren’t taught how to deal with grief, how to talk about it, how to help others with it, so we turn away from it.
- The best way to help another who is grieving is just to “bear witness” to their loss and their pain. Just listen.
- Love and grief are a package deal. You can’t have one without the other. The only way to avoid grief is to avoid love.
- The pain from loss is inevitable, but suffering is what we do to ourselves.
- Finding joy and peace again after loss is not being “disloyal” to your loved one.
Though I have been in practice for 32 years, I am still learning. The more I learn, the more I realize how much more there is to know. I am grateful to David Kessler for these lessons.
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