Grief is laden with longing for what was. A wish, a deep churning need, to return to life before our loss occurred. It takes time to genuinely accept that our loved one will not return, and that our lives will never be the same again. It takes time to acclimate to what is often termed our new normal. For some the process can facilitate a crisis of faith, for others it brings a new awareness of spiritual connection or strengthens the existing connection to ones predominate belief system.
As a clinician, I have witnessed this process many times, and as an individual I have journeyed it myself. Efforts to make sense of or find meaning in (as David Kessler so eloquently discusses in his work Finding Meaning-The Sixth Stage of Grief ) is a strange, painful, and lengthy process. It takes as long as it takes and is a deeply individual and personal experience. With the exceptions of harming oneself or others, there are no tangible rules.
Today, I was reminded (while looking through David Kessler’s lovely writing and loving tribute to his son) of the importance of one’s belief system as he re-shared the parable of Two Babies Talking in the Womb. This original work is credited to Pablo Molinero.
The parable is as follows: In a mother’s womb were two babies. The first baby asked the other, “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The Second baby replied, “Why of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are to prepare ourselves for what we are to be later”. “Nonsense”, said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What would that life be?” “I don’t know, but there will be more light then here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat with our mouths.” The doubting baby laughed. “This is absurd”. Walking is impossible. And, eat with our mouths? Ridiculous. The umbilical cord supplies nutrition. Life after delivery is to be excluded. The umbilical cord is too short.” The second baby held his ground. “I think there is something and maybe it is different then it is here.” The first baby replied, “No one has ever come back from there. Delivery is the end of life, and in the after delivery it is nothing but darkness and anxiety and it takes us nowhere”. “Well, I don’t know” said the twin. “but certainly we will see mother and she will take care of us”. “Mother?” The first baby guffawed. “You believe in mother? Where is she now? The second baby calmly tried to explain, “she is all around us. It is in her that we live. Without her there would not be this world. “Ha. I don’t see her, so it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.” To which the other replied, “Sometimes when you’re in silence you can hear her, you can perceive her. I believe there is a reality after delivery and we are here to prepare ourselves for that reality when it comes…”
It is normal to have questions after loss. These questions and our struggle with them is where we make new meaning, find the depths of our personal strength, and often our connection to spiritual belief. Having (and consistently connecting with) a belief system is helpful in this process. It is also extremely normal to struggle with this. Anger at God, questions of why, blame, searching for how it could have been different, and questioning is there anything more, are often unwanted companions along this uncomfortable path.
Grief changes us. As we navigate its many nuances we benefit from our connection to spirituality (in whatever form that takes for us) and we (though it seems counterintuitive) benefit from wrestling with our questions around the personal meaning of loss. In my experience, advice in grief is never truly helpful. This applies to spirituality as well. It can deepen pain due to the seeming dismissiveness of one’s personal relationship around the loss. While advice is (almost always) well intended, hearing such statements as “God has a greater plan” does little during the heights of grief. It can leave lasting impressions and place unneeded distance in an already lonely process.
Listening and being with someone in grief is all that we can and really need to do. While this sounds simple it is often difficult to operationalize. There are many reasons for this (primarily the wish to help and personal discomfort) but remembering this is the griever’s journey is important. And, when he or she is ready (as their grief has come to a place that they are able to begin the process of taking in new information) sharing resources is always a good starting point. Offering to early is also dismissive.
Building perspective around loss often includes beginning, ending, or reshaping spiritual belief. There are many other facets of oneself that will undergo change (and can be explored in future posts) for now resources which hold components around navigating grief and spirituality are offered. These follow in the resource section of this post.
As always, I will add that when one is unable to move through grief accessing informed therapeutic support is important. These resources also follow.
Lastly, I offer the wise words of Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu, “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings”. This is beautifully captured in the parable of “Two Babies Talking in the Womb” and can be gently shared as one is ready to explore reclaiming life after loss.
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Professional Disclaimer: It is important to recognize that all information contained in the Perspective on Trauma Blog is informational, and is not intended as a substitute for clinical care. It is not possible to provide informed care through web content, as an informed treatment relationship cannot be formed. If you or a loved one is in need of care, it is important that you access this care from your own care provider.
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Web Sites: 1) Grief.com, Because Love Never Dies. grief.com, 2) Whatsyourgrief.com, 64 movies about grief. whatsyourgrief.com 3) Open to Hope: Articles, books, and on-line resources. http://opentohope.com 4) The National Alliance for Grieving Children: Resources and Support for children including a section on Covid-19. http://childrengrieve.org 5) Light a Candle: An on-line community dedicated to honoring loss and hope by the sacred ritual of lighting on-line candles for loved ones and dedicating prayers, intentions, and blessings. http://gratefulness.org6) The Grief Recovery Method: Blog, Articles, certification griefrecoverymethod.com 7) Grief Net: On-line resources and groups griefnet.org 8) Grief Healing Blog \: Using Movies to Heal Through Grief: http://griefhealingblog.com
Books: 1) Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. David Kessler 2) God and the Afterlife: Jeffrey Long (Near Death Experience Study. 3) The Shack: William Paul Young 4) When Bad Things Happen to Good People: Harold S. Kushner 5) The Year of Magical Thinking: Joan Didion 6) 90 Minutes in Heaven: Cecil Murphy. All can be found on http://thriftbooks.com
Movies: 1) Using Movies to Heal Through Grief griefhealingblog.com 2) 64 Movies About Grief http://whatsyourgrief.com: On these sites you will find a number of movies in many categories including those with content around anticipatory grief, the loss of a child, spouse, partner, significant other, parent, sibling, friend, animal companion, and topics such as coping with suicide, traumatic loss, guilt, spiritual reactions and mystical experiences. It is not an exhaustive list. Recommended Movies (from grief experts) regarding spiritual reactions and mystical experiences include; Shadowlands (1994), The Sixth Sense (1999), Wide Awake (1998), A Rumor of Angels (2000), Always (1989), City of Angels (1998), Dragonfly (2002), Ghost (1990), Northfork (2003), The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2004), Titanic (1997), Truly, Madly, Deeply (1996), Untamed Heart (1993), Waking the Dead (2002). In addition, I would add Coco (2017) to this list.
Counseling Resources: 1) Grief Counseling Directory: David Kessler. grief/com 2) The American Counseling Association-Grief and Loss Resources: counseling.org 3) The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization: nhpco.org (Please note, listing resources is not an endorsement)
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