Grief is present in life, though we often don’t like to experience it. Why should we? It’s not comfortable. But what is her role and why is it good to face her? Read in the article.
We meet with grief many times in our lives. Facing grief an integral part of our life and has a role in it, so running away from her is not wise. It can occur at various stages of life. It usually occurs at partings, at unfulfilled expectations, when things do not turn out as we expected. Maybe it’s parting with a friend who moved out, maybe a break up of a relationship we’ve been investing in a lot. It comes when we say farwell to a loved one. Or to our beloved animal, our pet. Or maybe it is goodbye to a lifestyle we knew. These are all events in which grief can show up and manifest in a more direct manner.
Sometimes, though, it manifests more subtly. Sometimes, without even noticing, we have to part from the expectations we had. And these are also the moments in which we can experience grief. When we mentally have to part with the life we have planned, and it has not come true. With a relationship that doesn’t work the way we wanted it to. From our own expectations that are not realistic. These are all farewells, though these may be less obvious. But grief is a normal feeling for each of them.
What is the role of grief?
Grief plays a role in our lives, just like all other emotions. This seems to be an interesting aspect of grief that is often overlooked or not understood in our culture. We collectively don’t see the value of grief. We tend to collectively defend ourselves from it, so the places and spots where we can learn this are rare. It is culturally accustomed to run away from our grief.
Emotions have their function, so grief is no exception. They can be suppressed or denied. But the body cannot get rid of them entirely, they just shift. Chronically suppressed emotions come back like a geyser you try to forcibly shut up. They don’t go away. They just come back later in some other place. Usually it is the place you least expect. This is the main reason why it is not wise to avoid grief.
“Maturation always implies that we have to leave behind something lost, even if it is an imaginary space, and to work through the process of mourning means to leave one of these former two spaces (internal or external), which always sounds safer, more secure to us, even though it is gone, more predictable.
Jorge Bucay, The Way of Tears “
Evolutionary, grief also has its function. It is to slow down a wounded organism so that it withdraws into a state in which it may not be able to cope with external stimuli in the way it would under normal circumstances. To recover and prepare for new challenges. And this is a very valuable reason for letting us feel our grief. Let us remember this the next time we are visited by sorrow. In a way, she is actually our friend, a friend who allows us to work something out and move on.
Often grief is what we hold on to as the reflection of something loved, old, something that has passed. By holding onto the grief, often we actually cling to the part of our life that is over. Deep down under, we may be feeling grief is maybe the only thing left connecting us to this old life, old phase, old us. This often happens when we part the person who passed away or is no longer with us. That’s why some people so stubbornly refuse to get part with their grief. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut for coming out of it. There is no other way out but through it.
Grief also plays a cultural role. Culturally, it has a symbolic function of the release that we must go through if we are to continue life. Grieving rituals exist in many forms and cultures and serve to enable people to process grief. In our culture, one type of mourning ritual is the death of a person, such as a funeral.
What happens when we do not face grief?
Why should grief be faced? After all, it does not feel good and we don’t want to not feel good. But there is a pretty good reason for facing it. Because when we do not face grief, it does not disappear but just shifts to another form – it usually takes on a different appearance. Grief loves wearing masks of other emotions. Of anger. Of addiction to alcohol or druga. Or those less obvious addictions, like addiction to relationships. To love. To too much fun. Or to food. Grief can be very hungry and require a lot of food. It can also be disguised as a highly rational manner of behavior. Hiding one emotion through another is a common defense. In such instances, we can “peel the onion layers” therapeutically to get to grief and allow ourselves to feel it. Disguise of one emotion with other and similar kinds of behaviors are often learned in systems where there the sadness is not allowed. Even culturally, we are often taught to replace one emotion with the other, particularly in the case of grief. It is easier to be happy and pretend to laugh than to sit with grief.
How to deal with one’s own grief?
Gently. Allow it to be there. Try sitting with her. Asking her where she came from, why she is there. If grief is too great and impedes our functioning, perhaps this direct path is not a good way, so it is good to learn the mechanisms of immediate escape from grief. However, these mechanisms can be used only for a while, until we feel better to cope with sadness. Not to run away from it, but to prepare ourselves and gather strength to come back to facing it later.
And grief can be faced in different ways. Through crying, through sitting with it or lying underneath a cosy blanket or wherever we feel supported and protected. In general, through a lot of self-care. Also in creative ways. By drawing, listening to music, journaling or writing. Through easy meditations and reflection. Jack Kornfield advises the creation of the atmosphere of support. Listening to one’s own breath. Feeling the breath in the chest area. Putting your hand on your heart. And if this is too much for us, we can just simply sit with grief. Just simply be present with it, let her sit with us, instead of running away from it.
As much as we would sometimes love to, we cannot run from grief. It has to be faced at some point because, otherwise, that geysir will break through in some other place or form. When we at least expect it to.