It is a curious truth that whilst not everyone gets to live, everyone gets to die. Until we experience such loss as bereavement, we can barely imagine the impact of coping with bereavement, yet it is one of the few things that we all experience in time. The pain of grief for someone or something can feel so extreme that surviving it can also feel unimaginable. So much so that people can experience it as something separate to themselves, ‘I am beside myself with grief’. It seems to occupy our whole existence and beyond, filtering every other sense through overwhelming sadness.
But sadness isn’t all, we can be flooded with a sense of powerlessness and impotence, anger at ourselves and others for what was and wasn’t done, or for being abandoned and left alone. Shame and guilt about the feelings we are left with, at what we couldn’t prevent. Fearful of our future and our sanity we can even feel resentful of those whose lives seem to carry on as normal and have futures, when our lives have become one long endless painful replaying day.
Those close to us try their best, ‘you will get through this’, ‘you did all you could’, ‘the pain will get less as the years go on’ or ‘time heals all’. but nothing seems to help and we can feel more isolated and guilty as others expect us to move on.
Kubler Ross, famously describes five stages that those who grieve seem to go through as “..denial, anger, bargaining, depression and [finally] acceptance”. While this is a helpful description, it is not a blueprint and in reality we can go back and forth, getting stuck in any or all of them at the same time.
But something does change, the world could not carry on if it didn’t. Grief can be immensely important to us to hang on to, letting go of it can feel like breaking faith in what or who we have loved. It is not the pain that diminishes, it is our lives that grow around it, almost in spite of what we choose to do.
Like an unwatched tree, our branches continue to grow and spread out. The size of the fruit of grief stays the same, to be visited and valued with equal intensity at any time, but the option of distance becomes available to us. The debilitation of grief becomes outgrown, the pain of that loss and separation remains as it should, a necessary and valued part of our story.