People generally avoid loss and mourning. One does not always know how to react, what to say to a grieving person. From subjects like loss, mourning or death, one becomes sad, gloomy, quiet. But why shouldn’t you be allowed or able to celebrate that the other person, your deceased loved one … that that special other person has somehow accomplished the tasks in life and is allowed to go home. Why shouldn’t you be allowed to celebrate that? Laugh with all your heart and soul, despite your mourning!
Recently, after a conversation with a friend, I noticed that I had been laughing with her. That laugh came deep inside … from my core … my soul.
Hours later it dawned on me that since the death of my daughter Anne Birgit, now more than 20 years ago, I had seldom done this! And because of the death of my wife Mary-Anne, already 10 years ago, I was not aware of how I really felt … how I was in life. Even though in those years I worked on myself … alone … or with others. Still, in those years I was able to enjoy life … have fun in life. But despite all that … or perhaps because of all that … that awareness that I had estimated from the laughter … felt to me like a thunderclap in clear heaven.
An ambivalent feeling
That awareness of that laughter deep from my heart gave me an ambivalent feeling. On the one hand it tasted like more … I wanted to be able to laugh more often with all my feelings. But on the other hand, why hadn’t I discovered this in myself sooner … hadn’t I become aware of it sooner?
Yes, I had often laughed and had fun after the great loss of both my soul mates … but somehow it wasn’t real … it didn’t sound real … as if something was missing … something deep inside.
And then all of a sudden … all of a sudden you come across statements by “verken je geest” on Facebook, translated from the Dutch language, like “It’s striking that a smile can have two different meanings … you can use it to show how good you feel … and … to hide how bad you feel”. Or a statement like “The people who laugh the most are the people who have suffered the most”. Yeah, I came across those statements suddenly after I realized that I had been laughing from all of my heart. Or did I not notice such statements earlier? I don’t know.
Light and Love
I want to heal myself and/or be healed so that after all the loss and sorrow that I have experienced so far, I can … really laugh with pleasure … really enjoy life … and really trust myself … love and light in my life are central again. But then I must go inside, to my feelings, to my heart … to my soul? Do I dare to do that? Will I succeed … or … With the help of others, professional experts in experience, it should certainly be possible.
At the same time with that insight I feel a deep peace coming in … as if I finally dare to make the leap to that part of the path that is full of obstacles. Or as Frank A. Clark describes it: “If you find a path without obstacles, it probably leads nowhere.
Dare to take that path … that path with its many obstacles and let yourself be surprised by the wonderful encounters and lessons you can learn there. Continue to cherish that path with Love and Light. Show what a wonderful person that other person was … that loved one you have lost. At the same time, show what a wonderful person you are and that despite your loss and mourning, you may shine in the Light and Love of Life. Celebrate that and Laugh with all your Heart and Soul, despite your mourning!
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The story starts with the only time I can consciously remember seeing my father. It ends with the enormous loss during the upbringing of my son. Yes Dad, I missed you so much … afterwards.
As a 3-year-old, I can still remember very well the image of my father about which the story in this blog is about. There are other images, but … these have been photos that have gradually disappeared over the years due to the many removals. That one image, 70 years ago now, which this blog is about, is still crystal-clear to me. However, it seems as if I am now looking through a magnifying glass. I see my father’s face in every detail. The rest of the space he is in, is blurred.
As I now remember it
As a 3-year-old, I see myself on my knees in the hallway of my grandparents’ house and play with my grandfathers’s blue-grey wooden toolbox. I finally got the lid open and nothing was in the box. From the noises behind me I could hear that my grandmother was busy in the kitchen. Furthermore the house was quiet, very quiet and … the way I now experience it again and letting the feeling of that moment come to me … the house feels as if it waited for something … as if something very intense … something very important was about to happen.
Then the front door opens, and my mother comes in. As soon as she sees me, there is a big smile on her face, and I am glad to see her again. She asks if I will go with her to my Father. Of course, I want to. She picks me up and carries me upstairs to the room where my Father is resting. It is the room I am never allowed to enter. He has tuberculosis and everyone is so terrified that he could infect me that I was certainly not allowed to go to him.
My Father has just woken up and while my Mother is sitting with me on her lap on the floor, away from the bed, he is turning on his side. When he sees me, a radiant smile appears on his face. His eyes are shining all over, he is so happy. So much energy and love he radiates to me. It is a contact from eye to eye … from soul to soul … short and intense. It feels like a farewell … as if he knows he will never see me again.
My mother lifted me up again and we went back downstairs. It was far too short. I wanted to go back to him, but it was not allowed. They were so afraid that I would also be infected with TB. That just wasn’t goingto happen.
Years later I heard from my Mother that my Father had died a few weeks later. My Mother and Grandparents never really wanted to talk about my Father; that’s how it felt with me. Only many years later during the upbringing of Mervyn, my son, I started to miss my Father enormously. I would have liked so much to talk to him about raising a son. How would he have raised me and what would he have run into? What else would he have wanted to do differently afterwards? So that I wouldn’t have had to raise my Son with “trial and error”. As a father to my son, the number of failures is in stark contrast to the bits that succeeded. Unfortunately, my Father was not allowed to experience my upbringing and that of his grandchild. Dad, I missed you so much!
What I became aware of again
What I realised again while writing this blog is that memory is a fantastic tool. You can’t retrieve everything from your memory just like that. It usually requires triggers, such as a smell, a colour, a sound, an image, or an emotion. One of the triggers with me was a journey through my soul where you go back to your past under hypnosis. Another trigger recently was during a training about loss and mourning in young people. What I now also realise … realise again … is that the consequences of loss and mourning can surface again (many) years later. Time does not heal all wounds, there will always be scars left. It is what it is.
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Becoming aware of mourning is important because in the literature it is described how grief represents a change in health status and well-being. Just as healing in the physiological area is necessary to restore the homeostatic balance in the body, the grieving needs time to restore the psychological balance.
Becoming aware of mourning
Becoming aware of mourning is
important since it is described in the literature how sadness represents a
change in health status and well-being. Just as healing in the physiological
area is necessary to restore the homeostatic balance in the body, the griever
needs time to restore the psychological balance.
In an earlier blog I wrote about an overwhelming loss immediately after a loved one or dear one had died. This blog is about the run-up to becoming aware of grief as a result of that overwhelming loss.
A few terms
The following terms are used in this
indicates the experience of someone whose loved one or dear one has died. Grief
consists of a collection of thoughts, feelings, behaviour and physiological
changes that can vary in combination and intensity over time.
Bereavement defines the loss to which the person is trying to adjust and the
experience of having lost a loved one or dear one.
is the term that is applied to the process that people go through to adapt to
the death of their loved one or dear one. The finality and consequences of the
loss are understood and integrated into the life of the griever.
As you would expect, notions such as
grief, bereavement and mourning are not limited solely to aspects related to
the death of the loved one or a dear one. It can be drawn much wider. For example,
in relation to a terminal illness, a divorce, the loss of work, the loss of
physical functions, etc.
Why should grief be dealt
with after a big loss?
Research has shown that within normal
mourning, also referred to as uncomplicated mourning, much of the behaviour can
resemble that of depression. However, the cause is different and so does the
approach to address its behaviour. The current understanding is that while most
of the depressions during mourning are transient and do not require special
attention, the idea is nevertheless emerging that a persistent depression
during the first year of mourning does indeed require professional or clinical
attention. Seen from this perspective, it is believed mourning after the loss
of a loved one or a dear one is important.
But whatever you think
about it …
The choice of whether to handle your
grief after a major loss is entirely up to you. You are free to process your
grief or not. You may not even consider it because sadness is part of life and
many in your area die. You could choose to repress your sorrow (after a short
time) into the background simply by continuing with your daily life “as usual.”
You could even choose to replace it with someone else shortly after your
“Mourning? Do I mourn? No, not at
all! Should I? Why would I want to do that?” These are questions and reactions
from a young man from Nigeria whose family member had died. He explained that
mourning does not matter to him because death is part of daily life. After all,
many people are dying around us. A reformulation of the question could also be:
if it is normal for (many) acquaintances to die or disappear in your
environment every day … how do you look at your loss or mourning?
How do I become aware of
my grief from that great loss?
Personally, I became aware of my
grief after many years. After the death of my wife, Mary Anne, I returned to
work quickly, maybe too quickly. My work was intense, the teams worked all over
the world and as a result my working hours were quite bizarre. However, it was
a fantastic job from which I could get a lot of energy. Until that moment when
I retired a few years later. I got several of those indefinable ailments, felt
gloomy, could not sleep, was tired, and reading a page of a book took me days
and still I had no hunch what it was about. Ailments no physician could put a
finger on. Occasionally there were days when all went fantastic … at least
that added a bit of hope to the little that was left of it. It all simmered a
bit until during a vacation with my son, Mervyn, we suddenly had to rush to the
hospital, I could barely breathe anymore. They saw it happen in the hospital,
but they couldn’t find the cause. Eventually everything returned to normal and
we went on with our vacation. Once at home they could not find a cause in our
hospital either. However, once I started writing my blogs about grief and mourning,
those “ailments” started to disappear slowly. Gradually I became
aware that I had finally started processing my grief.
But could you also become
aware of your mourning … instead of by chance?
In general, mourning involves a
collection of thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and physiological changes that can
vary over time in combination and intensity. To name just a few:
Sadness, anger, blame, guilt and self-blame, fear, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, yearning for the deceased, emancipation or relief, numbness, hollowness in the stomach, chest tightness, tightness in the throat, hypersensitivity to noise, a feeling like you are no longer yourself, breathlessness, shortness of breath, weakness in the muscles, lack of energy, dry mouth, disbelief, confusion, preoccupation, sense of presence, hallucinations, sleep disorders, eating disorders, distracted and absent behaviour, withdrawn into oneself, dreams about the deceased, avoiding memories of the deceased, searching or calling for the deceased, sighing, restless, hyperactive, crying, visit places that remind of the deceased, collect or carry objects that belonged to the deceased.
Yes, there are quite a few and on top
of that you must be able to be consciously involved with this matter for a
while after that overwhelming loss. Maybe you suffer from absent behaviour or
you have no energy to do anything. Maybe family members or friends can assist
you when you are not able to do so yourself.
How to proceed
Personally, I was able to conclude
that I had started processing my mourning much later. In retrospect, I would
much rather have had direct help with the processing of my grief. It would have
given me more peace and I could have enjoyed life more. Maybe even … it is
what it is…
Anyway, you can become aware of
mourning, after the death of your loved one or dear one, when you keep track of
your thoughts, feelings, behaviour and physiological changes from the above
collection on say a monthly basis by indicating how these vary over time in
combination and/or its intensity. You could draw the conclusion when:
• The combination and/or intensity diminishes:
that you are processing your mourning and that you can handle the loss of your
loved one or your dear one.
• The combination and/or intensity
kind of persists: then it is wise to seek help for your mourning at a practice
for grieving and loss guidance.
• The combination and/or intensity
increases: then it is wise to seek help from your doctor as soon as possible for
guiding you with your mourning. In the latter case, based on your feelings, you
may have already considered the idea of seeking help in
an earlier stage.
This blog may be a bit on the boring side, but it is my intention to help you in becoming aware of your grief after the loss of a loved one or a dear one. From own experience, experience of others and from the literature it appears that processing of grief is important. In a nutshell, body and mind must be healed, must be brought back into balance. However, realize that that balance will no longer be the same as before. Mourning also means that you are “marked” by the loss … like in my previous blog with Kathy who rarely shows the brilliant light that she really is and with Tanja where you can see the necessary setbacks she has had when you look deep into her eyes.
It is my wish that this blog can help
you with becoming aware of your grief. It is my experience that only then your
A final comment
There is a lot of literature available in the field of grief and mourning. The Dutch version of the Foundation’s website contains a literature overview that is regularly updated. The book that I find most rewarding to read and understand is “Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy”, 5th edition, by J. William Worden (ISBN 9780826134745) published by Springer Publishing Company, LLC.
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An overwhelming loss just happened to you. At that moment you are in deep pain and don’t know what to do, but in the end, you get it resolved somehow. Be aware that it can often be a long and arduous journey, a journey in the unknown, with love and joy at the end of that journey. However, never again it will be the same as before … there will always be some pain left.
Suddenly there it was … an overwhelming loss
Recently you suffered an overwhelming loss that has a huge impact on you. It seems as if you have fallen into a deep hole, that your world stopped turning, that you are so stunned you don’t know what to do anymore.
Preferably you would want to put the clock back to the time, which might not be perfect, but in which you were happy. To the time you had the job of your life and didn’t realize that the company you worked for would eventually go bankrupt. Or perhaps to the time when that loved one was with you, who was always there for you, who always supported you, and gave you courage, who was the one your world revolved around, but who is deceased now. Or maybe to the time when you felt good and healthy and had no suspicion that you were seriously ill. After many intensive treatments the doctor informed you eventually that there wasn’t any other existing follow-up or trial treatment available for you to help.
The enormous emotional impact of the loss can raise questions like “does my life still makes sense” or “how do I proceed with my life from here” or “what is (still) the purpose of my life?” These questions will certainly not reduce the impact of the loss, on the contrary.
Your overwhelming loss and the ensuing grief and mourning can also be intensified by the opinions and attitudes of the people around you. People who, like you, are involved with the same loss but are trying to process this in a different way within their own realities. People who may not realize that everyone is mourning in their own way.
They are custom examples, or so you wish cases, which have happened to me and my family. When you happen to recognize yourself in one of these, I hope that this blog can help you.
It starts with the acceptance that what happened … did happen
Mourning or processing grief is a process that lasts as long as it takes, and which runs differently for everyone. Before the process of mourning can begin, however, you first must be able to acknowledge that this great loss that has happened is irreversible. That you accept that there is no way back because the company for which you worked is bankrupt or … that your loved one has died or … that your illness is terminal … and that what others think of your loss and your mourning is rather a mirror for themselves than that you have to do something with that.
Your acceptance of your loss does not mean that the processing of your grief is going “smoothly.” There may be times when at one point it seems you have accepted your loss while at a different moment it seems that it is not nearly the case. You may not even be aware of that but changing the acceptance of your loss from one moment to the next may generate the necessary additional emotions in you. Emotions that can translate into reactions in your body and also in your behaviour towards others. The same applies to the people in your immediate environment who are processing their grief too. It does not make it any easier.
And that was just the beginning. Yes, mourning requires a lot of energy. Jung said it back then, mourning, or processing your grief, is hard work.
Then come the questions, the life questions, on which answers are needed
Answers to life questions such as
“does my life still make sense” or “how do I continue with my
life” or “what is the purpose of my life” help in accepting the
reality of the loss. In my blog I cannot give answers to such questions because
the answers are influenced by who you are, by your background and culture, and
how you were formed during your life.
“Mmmmm …” I can hear you
think … “but how can I, as a reader, get answers to these, although
basic, but for me personally … important questions?”
In my opinion, it is important that you do not end up in a negative energy
spiral, because the longer it takes the harder it will be to reverse it again. But not everyone
recognizes or acknowledges that to themselves.
It is also important to adopt a positive attitude, so that problems become
opportunities, lessons become obstacles, and your worries are just a part of
My point of view is also that people can change … you too can change … using your heart and all the unconditional love that is available in our universe.
Easy to say but doing and continuing to do so is quite something else. It takes a lot of energy and above all perseverance. But not everyone is willing to devote that.
How do you tackle that … dealing with loss?
It reliefs when you are distracted
from that overwhelming loss. For example, you have children who need your care,
time and attention. Or you have people in your immediate environment who depend
on your help. Or you have a job. But not everyone has that.
It is easier when you do away old things. When you are open to other ideas,
other signals, other observations. But not everyone can do that.
It reliefs when you start recognizing that your fear has to do with
your thoughts that tell you that something is not possible, but that when you
can think in opportunities and challenges you can develop further and create
new opportunities. But not everyone wants that.
It helps when you dare to leave the trodden
path, and while you struggle over the path that is unknown to you, you
eventually discover a new path with new and more possibilities than you ever were
able to dream about. Opportunities that become a new reality for you. But not
It reliefs when you ignore what others think you should do, but that you listen to what your heart tells you … that you listen to your feelings. But not everyone has the courage to do so.
To provide you with some support while
processing an overwhelming loss, I can offer you some perspectives from my own
When you at length go through your
mourning with falling and getting up again, you discover at a certain moment
that the raw grief you experienced in the beginning has changed into the soft
pain of sorrow. That the pain has become a viable and essential part of you …
it has made you who you are at that moment.
It may even be the case that you have
changed so much that people around you wonder how that happened, while you
wonder why you did not start the activities you are currently engaged in much
earlier in your life.
In retrospect, you may consider that the great loss you have experienced
was necessary to put you on the path of life you are currently walking on … that
you can be proud of yourself on who you have become … on what you do now in
and with your life. What another thinks of that is like a mirror for the other
and not relevant to you.
In retrospect you may still vaguely remember any negative aspects and moments before and during that great grief, but later you remember mostly the beautiful things in your life. It gives freedom in your head, in your mind … it relieves.
Looking back in time…
An overwhelming loss just happened to you. At that moment you are in deep
pain and don’t know what to do, but in the end, you get it resolved somehow. Be
aware that it can often be a long and arduous journey, a journey in the
unknown, with love and joy at the end of that journey. However, never again it
will be the same as before … there will always be some pain
For that job of your life you’ve lost, eventually another occupation came in its place that gives much more satisfaction. For the loved one you lost and of whom you are missing the intimacy from human to human … maybe it even still hurts deeply … you are somehow still connected with the other from heart to heart. And because of that (terminal) disease you eventually learned to live and enjoy moment by moment.
Dear reader, I have learned to approach life in a positive way. That did
not happen by itself. Two intense mourning processes contributed to this. It
was hard work and there were times when I no longer knew how to continue in
life or how I could find the answers to my life’s questions. But when someone
asks me now, “if you would have the choice with the knowledge you possess now,
to completely relive your life? What is your answer?” then I would answer
wholeheartedly with … Yes!
I hope this blog is useful in helping you while processing your grief.
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The shadow side of mourning? Is there a light one then? Everything is relative, you could see it as the difference between dusk with a brilliant sunset and the oncoming night as the shadow side.
The mourning process about the loss of a loved one can become complicated, without talking though about complex mourning. No, about a form where many things play a role in the periphery of mourning. That I call the shadow side of mourning. A form that can lead you to deferred mourning and everything in between.
Mourning, imaged as a
When you consider a sunset as an image for a mourning process, then mourning is limited to the processing of the loss of a loved one by you and by you only.
The image of the sunset is not just about the (sometimes) difficult moments in your life … but also including those great moments that you shared together. It’s about a life, that when someone asks you if you would be willing to live that life all over again … including all those sad and great moments … your answer would be an immediate yes!
It maybe is a meagre consolation, but the deeper the grief the greater the love that existed between you. At the moment of realization, it doesn’t console you though … because the other one isn’t there anymore and you can’t give him or her a hug or a kiss.
The shadow side of
The shadow side of mourning is about a loss that can become an even greater one by aspects that play a role in the periphery of the grieving person.
Besides the loss of your loved one, you will also have to deal with aspects that are the result of how others manage the same loss. A disagreement between family members during the preparations for the memorial service could cause this … or just after that. Or the handling of the inheritance became an issue … and consequently, family ties could be lost. The so-called “glass door” effect for mourners results to the loss of friends. After the memorial service of your dear one, almost everyone promises to invite you. Only a handful honour their promise though.
The loss of a dear one might even lead to anger. Anger because you are so sorry that your last words didn’t reflect not even close what you felt for the other. You may feel abandoned because you now must deal with all those things and issues your loved one always did. You may find out secrets about your dear one that were hidden from you all the time. It could be even that your anger turns into hatred.
You may feel compelled or even forced to take over the position in the company of your loved one. A position you never wanted to have because you don’t have the knowledge or skills. But now you should do so.
When the shadow side plays an important role in your loss, then mourning becomes convoluted. It’s clear though, like everyone else, that only you can process your mourning. But that is not to say that a helping hand can’t be offered … a helping hand in the form of support or guidance.
Finding support … but how?
Support and guidance should primarily be directed to raise awareness and the understanding of what is happening to you (in other words, to understand the parts of your puzzle) at that moment; and what parts are important to you; and what could be done to resolve those parts of your puzzle.
Secondly, you should find out what parts of your puzzle could be resolved by yourself or by somebody else. And, not to forget, why and for which items of your puzzle support or guidance would be required. As normally would be the case knowledge and experience are important factors, but with grief or bereavement trust is the most important factor. The rule of thumb that should be used is: “When in doubt, out!”
Personally, I find it important that the grieving person should become self supporting as soon as possible. That means that all assistance or guidance provided is only of (very) short term nature!
Mourning is not just about the loss of a loved one. Parallels could also
drawn for mourning as a result of a treatable but incurable disease up to and
including a malignant terminal disease.
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