Monday, September 24, 2018

In Grief: Being Open to Mourning

[Reviewed and updated July 20, 2019]

Along with meditation, some of your grief will want to be written, to be cried out, to be sung, to be danced. Let the timeless wisdom within you carry you through grief to an open heart.  ~ Jack Kornfield

A reader writes: I certainly understand the loss of pets as I grieved terribly for a cat I had that was killed by a car, she was just a young cat and I feel I let her down. I also had an abortion and that was four years ago and I am still grieving to some degree. My dad I lost a year and a half ago, he was my best friend and I loved him so much but beyond the initial crying when he first passed away I can't let the grief out, though I miss him terribly, when I cry my eyes sting and I hear a voice inside telling me to dry up my tears.
He wrote me what he wanted after his death which instructed me not to be upset for too long as death comes to us all in time so be happy. I find it hard to let it out but after my abortion the tears just flowed like water. I don't understand why they are hard to come with my dad. Any thoughts? 

My response: I'm so sorry to learn of the significant losses you've endured ~ the cat you loved who was killed in a tragic accident, the abortion you had four years ago, and the death of your beloved father. You say that although you miss your dad terribly, you find yourself "unable to let the grief out." You also say that whenever you begin to feel your feelings and cry, you hear a voice inside telling you to dry up your tears ~ and since this man you loved and respected so much instructed you (in writing, no less) "not to be upset for too long" after he died, it comes as no surprise to me that you're having such trouble feeling those feelings and shedding those tears.

I suspect that in an effort to "be a good daughter" and honor your father's wishes, you've been repressing your grief at his death for a very long time. To be sure, your intentions were good, and so were your father's, but the reality is that when you deny the emotions of your heart, you deny the very essence of your life. Someone you love dearly has died, my dear, and in your heart you've come to know the deepest pain of loss ~ but if you've interpreted your father's message as an injunction not to feel and express that pain, it seems to me that you've set a task for yourself that is impossible. What is more, it isn't healthy. You cannot go around this pain of loss; you must be open to it. You must honor it and be willing to embrace it. It is the key that will open your heart and place you on the path to healing.

You see, despite your father's efforts to protect you from the pain of losing him, it is the love you have for your father that requires you to mourn for him. We do not grieve for those we do not love. When we do not pay our grief the attention it demands, the pain of it doesn't "go" anywhere ~ it simply lies there, waiting patiently for us to deal with it. And the harder we try to avoid the pain, the more difficult it becomes! As Alan Wolfelt says in his wonderful book, Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones,
You will learn over time that the pain of your grief will keep trying to get your attention until you have the courage to gently, and in small doses, open to its presence. The alternative -- denying or suppressing your pain -- is in fact more painful. I have learned that the pain that surrounds the closed heart of grief is the pain of living against yourself, the pain of denying how the loss changes you, the pain of feeling alone and isolated -- unable to openly mourn, unable to love and to be loved by those around you.

Instead of dying while you are alive, you can choose to allow yourself to remain open to the pain, which, in large part, honors the love you feel for the person who has died. As an ancient Hebrew sage observed, 'If you want life, you must expect suffering.' Paradoxically, it is gathering the courage to move toward the pain that ultimately leads to the healing of your wounded heart. Your integrity is engaged by your feelings and the commitment you make to honor the truth in them . . . Be present to your multitude of thoughts and feelings . . . 'be with' them, for they contain the truth you are searching for, the energy you may be lacking, and the unfolding of your healing. Oh, and keep in mind, you will need all of your thoughts and feelings to lead you there, not just the feelings you judge acceptable. For it is in being honest with yourself that you find your way through the wilderness and identify the places that need to be healed.
How do you begin this process of paying attention to your pain? You can grieve by intentionally letting your tears come, or by sitting in meditative silence, or by performing a ritual that might include praying or music or singing or dancing. You can put your thoughts and feelings into writing, either in a journal or by participating in an online forum such as our own Grief Healing Discussion Groups. You can educate yourself about what is normal in grief, by reading articles and books such as the ones I've listed here and here. You can contact your local hospice, mortuary, church or public library to learn what bereavement services, educational programs and grief support groups are offered in your own community.

The good news is that it is never too late to do the work of grief, and you don't have to do it alone or without support. You took the first step by writing to me, and I hope you will continue on this path toward your own healing.

I want to leave you with these words from the wise and renowned Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield:
The grief we carry is part of the grief of the world. Hold it gently. Let it be honored. You do not have to keep it in anymore. You can let go into the heart of compassion; you can weep. Releasing the grief we carry is a long, tear-filled process. Yet it follows the natural intelligence of the body and heart. Trust it, trust the unfolding. Along with meditation, some of your grief will want to be written, to be cried out, to be sung, to be danced. Let the timeless wisdom within you carry you through grief to an open heart.
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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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