Grief and Gratitude
NY Times Article “The Trauma of Being Alive”
Grief and Gratitude
This wonderfully written article reminds me of one of the classes I remember the most from graduate school called “Grief & Loss”. It was required, which I am grateful for because it was one of the most impactful, important courses I took. My professor was incredible; deeply insightful and so willing to “go there” that she created this safe and powerful place to learn, talk, and experience. She was of those teachers that truly taught, much more committed to our learning than to any agenda she might have had. And I suspect this was a difficult course to teach.
Grief is such a tough subject and no one wants to talk about this monster that lives beneath all of our beds. Reading this article reminds me how dynamic grief can be. When I work with patients, I talk about grief like you are sitting on a bench next to it (grief)…you have to “be” with it, sit with it, be overwhelmed by it, sometimes connect and feel it, sometimes you get to ignore it, but it’s always there. Grief is a balancer in some ways as being elated all the time is just not realistic. And while it’s terrible to experience, if you can look for it, there is always that little part of grief which validates the love for the thing you lost, which then brings comfort.
Awareness of your grief process is important and helpful. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ book, “Death and Dying” is mentioned in the article and it is one of, if not the most important writings on grief around. Many people are not surprised by the denial or depression part of the grief process, but what takes most people completely by surprise is anger. And everyone in a grief process will experience anger, trust me. It is one of the most conflicting parts of the process…becoming angry with whatever you loved and lost. It never makes sense but at the same time, it signals progress in the process so just be on the look out for it and don’t read too much into it.
Which leads me to talk about preparation for grief. This is something we avoid like the plague in our culture. I can’t tell you how many people I know that refuse to write a will because they think that will make them die. No one gets out of here alive, right? So why do we pretend like we will? I suspect it is because we know the incalculable pain that loss can bring. Preparing for grief and loss is unnerving at first but having worked on this personally, it actually brings some relief. My hobby is horseback riding and I have horses, and like other “pets”, we tend to out live our animals. And when you have a handful of them, losing them is inevitable. My love for my animals is deep, surprisingly deep for me and I didn’t understand the true depth of it until I lost my first horse. I felt similarly to when I lost my grandmother, devastated and like my heart had been ripped out. I was fully unprepared for his death even though he was sick for long enough to know that he wasn’t go to be around much longer. It took me two years to really cycle all the way through losing him. Two years, for my horse. That blew me away. Now, when I look at my horses or cats, I think about how grateful I am for having them and try to soak up as much of the experience as I can and enjoy the moment’s with them. This practice of presence has spilled over onto my human relationships, something much more difficult to contemplate preparing for. As my parents age, I must begin to prepare. And as the sadness and pain step up to greet me, I have a new tool of preparation and gratitude to lean on, restoring that peacefulness that grief disrupts.