Let’s try to start “painting” the landscape of grief today. Not in black and white only but, in the full spectrum of colors we observe.
We can see and interpret colors in various ways. Rationally, when we talk about the colors themselves e.g. blue, red or green. Emotially, when we say that a color is warm, cold, dull or merry.
The concept of “grief” has a wide range of interpretations. Those interpretations though, may vary from culture to culture or from language to langue. For this blog I will use the “Merriam-Webster Dictionary” where grief is defined as a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement” but, also as “an unfortunate outcome”. In other words the concept of “grief” varies from the loss of simple addressable items such as the loss of a necklace up to the loss of the person who is most dear to you.
When you are acquainted with someone you like you become related to each other, you get a bond with each other. Overtime the bond gets stronger as more and more facets (or colors) introduce themselves in the relationship.
The bond is broken by the loss of your dearest. It is not only the loss of the person but also missing the hug in the morning, the happiness and love you received, or simple things as a cup of coffee that was ready for you when you arrived at home. And then suddenly there is nobody standing next to you and you have to do everything yourself. All those things cannot be replaced because nobody means to you what the other meant to you, the one you lost. And then there are the things that remain which will deepen the loss of your dearest. The strength of that special bond also relates to the level you was dependent from the other. The greater the strength of the bond the more difficult it will be and the longer it takes to get “free” from it.
When “grief” is related to an “unfortunate outcome” then there will be the emotion of the loss but it won’t go as deep as with the loss of your dearest. You can address this emotion much easier and you are much more able to find a rational cause and resolution for your loss. The 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) from Elisabeth Kübler Ross’ model will be dealt with in a (very) short time. Often we even do not realize we are going through a process of grieving.
The two sides of a coin
Personally the concepts of emotion and ratio form the two sides of a coin. When I observe myself I can see two things all the time. I see an emotional side that is busy processing grief as a result of the loss of my two loved ones. I miss the conversations, their love, the hugs, the jokes, and the “I love you” we said to each other regularly every day. We not only told this each other, is was the way we lived. My emotional side looks inward, feels all those emotions that are dealing with my loss and my grief and follows the heart. Despite the loss my emotional side is essentially warm, cheerful and full of love and the decisions it takes are through the heart.
I also see an observer, my rational me, which not only observes but also protects my emotional side. It also observes my friends, the people who support me, the people I meet and the world in which I live. My rational side is cold, bleak and mainly business like; decisions are motivated by the brains. My rational side would love to be more friendly but doesn’t understand how to do this.
It’s not always easy to live simultaneously with both my emotional and rational sides. Sometimes the emotional side has the upper hand, sometimes the rational one. In retrospect, I think my rational side is protecting my emotional one from going down in grief. I am not sure, but I suspect that the time I need for the processing of my grief this way will take a bit longer. But, I have to admit that the days that I am happy and sad at the same time, when I am in harmony, are in most cases my best days. It’s who I am.
Bizarre … happy and sad at the same time. Once I realized this it turned out that it happened much more often in my life. The loss of a job because the company I worked for went bankrupt, but also the joy of a new job. It had to be that way when I discovered in retrospect that I should have taken the new job much earlier. My daughter who, when she realized she was going to die, was sad because she would leave us, but at the same time she was happy because she finally got rid of a disease where she had suffered from all her life.
Happy and sad at the same time, it’s more common than you think and I assume most of us recognize this. By this simultaneity we can, despite the loss, change the cold and bleak colors of sorrow into warm and merry colors.
The start of processing grief
The processing of grief starts as soon as you realize this. Someone who is ill gets sicker and sicker and eventually realizes that the disease affects her/his life. A relationship between partners is getting worse and worse and eventually both realize it ends with a divorce. An adopted child is searching for its biological parents but realizes they can’t be found anymore.
The processing of grief doesn’t start when the loss happens but it starts as soon as you realize this, which can take days, weeks, months, even years. My processing of grief for the loss of my daughter started 13 years after her death, and at that same time started the processing of my grief for the loss of my wife who deceased 2½ years earlier and also at that same time a new phase in my life began. It was the beginning of one of the roughest and most stormy periods in my life that I wish on anyone.
But I know one thing for sure. My rational side protects my emotional side so it can continue to work on the processing of my grief. The friends around me who are listening to me all the time are helping in the way they can. I know it for sure, I will come out OK.
To be continued.