On Grief

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By Dave Hood

The loneliness without you
is beyond belief
I can’t come to terms with
this feeling called grief ~Paul Brown

Loss evokes grief. And grief expresses itself as mental pain and suffering, sorrow, depression, mental anguish. The most powerful form of loss is death of a loved one. Some other types of loss that will cause grief are the ending of a marriage, the loss of a job, death of a pet, end of a friendship, loss of financial security.

Loss often alters one’s sense of self and their way of life. For instance, when a person is fired from a job, he or she loses his identity (if identity is linked to work), status, interpersonal connections, and regular routine.

“The death of a beloved is an amputation”, wrote C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed.

***

Grief is universal—Everyone experiences one or more episodes of grief in the lifetime. And so, grief is a feature of the human condition.

Grief is also personal. People react differently to loss. Some people become angry, expressing their rage irrationally, perhaps screaming at a spouse. Some people escape the pain and suffering by getting high on booze or illicit drugs. Other people dedicate their lives to busyness. Instead of taking time to grieve, the person dedicates themselves to work. Still others engage in magical thinking, a form of irrational thinking in which a person believes that something is caused by a false cause.

***

Susan Berger, author of The Five Ways We Grieve, suggests that after a loss people who are grieving cope by developing a new identity. She identifies five possible new identities:

Nomad. The Person expresses a range of emotions, such as anger, denial, confusion. The person’s grief remains unresolved, and the person fails to understand how the impacts their lives.

Memorialist. The grieving person focuses his or her time and attention and energy on preserving the memory of the deceased, such as channeling his her per emotions into creating art, creating as memorial, writing a poem, writing lyrics for a song.

Normalizer. The grieving person attempts to replace what her or she has lost by focusing on maintaining or strengthening social bonds with family, friends, a significant other, or community.

Activist. The grieving person finds meaning from the loss by using his or her own experience with grief to help others, such as engaging in volunteer work or finding a new path of employment deals with helping others.

Seeker. The grieving person looks outward, beyond self, to make sense of the loss. The person often experiences existential angst. To answer his or her questions, the person turns to faith, philosophy, spirituality.

***

Loss has inspired many artists to create various forms of art embodying the emotion of grief. Many have created art as a social commentary about the human condition or used art making as a method of healing. “Art washes from the soul dust of everyday life” wrote Cubist painter Pablo Picasso.

Poets have written countless poems about loss. For instance, W. H Auden wrote Funeral Blues, inspired by the death of a loved one:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

***

Writers have penned countless stories on grief. In 1888, Anton Chekov wrote Misery, a short story in which the protagonist, a sleigh driver, is grieving the loss of his son. The man attempts to share his grief with others who board his sled, but none of them will take the time to listen. The story shows how many people are indifferent to the suffering of others.

In recent years (2005), Joan Didion wrote memoir about the impact of the loss of a loved one in The Year of Magical Thinking. Her magical thinking is like wishful thinking. If a person hopes for something enough or performs the right actions, an unavoidable event can be prevented. Didion’s memoir recounts her grief following the sudden, shocking death of her husband. The book went on to become a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography/Autobiography.

Many songwriters and musicians have composed music that deals with grief. In 1991, after his son’s tragic fall from a high rise to his death, Eric Clapton wrote the lyrics for and performed the tribute song Tears for Heaven.

Throughout the history of Western art, from the classical Greek to the religious paintings of Christianity, many painters have used the emotion of grief or their observations of loss to create memorable visual images, such as Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, Gustave Courbet’s Burial at Ornans, and Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

***

In her classic book, written in 1969, Elizabeth Kubler Ross studied people who were terminally ill and discovered that many passed through five stages of grief.

Stage 1- Denial. “I feel fine.”

Stage 2-Anger. “Why am I having to experience this grief. It’s not fair!”

Stage 3- Bargaining. “God, if you stop the pain and suffering, I will return to church….”

Stage 4 – Depression. “My mood descended into the dark depths of depression. I’m not inspired to do anything.”

Stage 5- Acceptance. “Though I felt sorrow, and grieved her loss for several months, I’m now at peace.”

Not everyone experiences all five stages of grief. But everyone experiences one or more of them.

***

There is no timeline for grief to depart from one’s life. Some people grieve a few days or weeks; Others feel the sense of loss for many years. For most people, grief vanishes like fog in sunshine. Each person who suffers from grief must discover their own path back from the abyss.  The grieving person turns to friends for emotional support. They share their sadness with a trusted friend who provides comfort and encouragement. Other people turn to faith. The grieving person answers his or her questions about loss, finds comfort, and learns to accept the loss by reading scripture, talking to a priest, and praying to God.

Art has also become a popular method of coping with grief. Many people turn to art as a form of therapy.  Mental Health professionals are also using Art therapy as a treatment for coping and recovering from grief.  There are many types of art therapy, such as making a grief mask with clay; drawing or painting your emotions, thoughts, memories, experiences of grief; or making a scrapbook of memories of a person who has passed away; collecting images and making a photo album.

Other people put pen to paper and write down their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and memories of loss in a grief journal. Writing can be cathartic, like sharing your sorrow with a therapist.

Some people engage in rigour exercise, such as jogging or cycling or swimming.  Physical exercise reduces tension and helps eliminate the emotion of anger. Many embrace yoga and meditation. These spiritual practises calm and clear the mind of stress.

Still others distract themselves from grief by taking up a new hobby or interest. After my mum died suddenly, I immersed myself in taking photographs. Each weekend, I would journey out, stroll the streets of Toronto like a hiker, and capture the people, buildings, fleeting moments that passed before my eyes.

Many people turn to work, and focus on it rather than allow themselves to grieve the loss. This is so often true for the workaholic, the person who has no work-life balance.

For other people, grief plummets them into depression. To climb out of the pit of melancholy, these people require anti-depressants and/or talk therapy.

***

Grief is part of the human condition. We can never escape from grief.  Grief lurks in the shadows of our precious lives, waiting to assault us when we least expect.  No matter how much we prepare ourselves for loss, we are never fully able to defend ourselves from the blows of grief, nor overcome the grief without giving ourselves time to heal from the pain and suffering caused by significant loss.

“Grieving is a necessary passage,” wrote Dodinsky, “and a difficult transition to finally letting go of sorrow—it’s not a permanent rest stop.”

Resources

  • Recovering from Grief. Com
  • The Five Ways We Grieve by Susan Berger
  • A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  • On Grief and Grieving by Elizabeth Kubler Ross
  • Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
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About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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