"If you do not bring forward what is within you, what is within you will destroy you. But if you bring forward what is within you, what is within you will heal and save you."

The Gospel of Thomas

"Deep within you is everything that is perfect, ready to radiate through you and out into the world. It will cure all sorrow and pain and fear and loss because it will heal the mind that thought these things were real, and suffered out of allegiance to them."

The Course in Miracles

Grief is the emotion that fills the empty space in our hearts left by the loss of a love object. When we love a person or thing and it passes away we naturally feel loss. Sadness and tears come to mark the loss. They signal to us and those around us that a significant event has occurred, and that we may need aid in our mourning.

When we cry, we are a veritable multimedia show in non-verbal communication. The tear, streaming and reflective, catches the light and signals that something emotionally significant is happening. Our face reddens, as it would if we couldn’t breathe, showing that we need to be attended to. As we sob, we express a sound not unlike a baby’s wail, the supreme attention getter. And our body moves rhythmically and distinctively in the sobbing, so that even from a distance, a companion may see that all is not well. The act of crying is a magnificently designed signal of human need. Each change in a person’s appearance while crying naturally pulls in the attention of those around them. Just as humans are equipped to cry, we have built-in inclinations to respond to crying by offering comfort.

In the best of bad situations, we would experience a loss and respond to it by crying. Someone near us would pick up the signal of our pain and come to our aid. In their closeness, their touch, and gentle reassurance we would be reminded that we are not alone, that we will be supported in our emotional readjustment.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go that way. Culture sometimes interferes with the natural way of things. Culture may tell us it is not appropriate to show our emotions or respond to others in the comforting that would be so natural. Living and working in cities we are less likely to be surrounded by a close group of intimates whose roles include responding to our emotional needs.

Instead of experiencing our emotional pain, being comforted, and moving on with life, we moderns are prone to pushing our emotions away, keeping a stiff upper lip, and adopting an appearance that nothing is wrong. We may even fool ourselves into believing that our deep losses should not be felt. We harden ourselves, so that the pain doesn’t show. We lose contact with our emotions, and as we do, we lose some of our ability to respond as nature intended.

Grieving is emotional healing. If we are unable to grieve our losses, we have difficulty moving on. We forfeit some of our emotional flexibility. Our psyches develop hard spots, and these may manifest themselves in habitual anger, irritability, anxiety, depression, or addiction.

One of the great universal truths is that all things must pass. Loss is inevitable. Another of those truths is that clinging to things causes suffering. When we love someone or something and it is lost to us we are inclined to suffer. The suffering can be mitigated if we understand the nature of things, which is that every thing is impermanent. All things decay. People come into our lives, and sometimes they go out of our lives. Sometimes the going is in the form of death. It is neither fair nor unfair, it is just the nature of life.

Life includes dying. Sadness is natural when a loved one dies. It is healthy to mourn, to feel the emotion of such a loss. It is also natural that the sadness lessens in time. We must be able to let it go when it has run its course.

If we are to allow joy into our lives, we must be able to grieve our losses. To do that, we need to be aware of our thoughts and feelings about our losses. We need to be able to feel the emotion. It is helpful to have someone to talk to about the losses. A sympathetic companion can be comforting and can help us gain perspective that can be hard to come by in the state of grief.

We need, in time, to achieve acceptance of the new conditions after a loss. We may not like the way things are, but it is useful to acknowledge that we don’t always get to have things our way. Life goes on. To get back in the rhythm of life we must make emotional adjustments.

Some things to think about:

Look back on your life, beginning in infancy, and call to mind the moments when you experienced notable loss. Perhaps make a list on paper of times when a person or pet or something of value went away from you.

How did you respond to the loss at the time?
What do you think and feel about it now?
How much of the pain is still with you?
Did you allow healing to occur, or is the wound still open?
Can you allow healing now?
Is there any reason that you might be preventing healing from happening?
Do you blame yourself or someone else for your loss? Can you now forgive them?
Can you accept that the loss happened-- that right or wrong this is the way things are?
Can you acknowledge the depth of the loss?
Do you need to cry? Can you allow yourself to cry?
Can you honor the loss, and honor your grief, while carrying on with life?

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© 1998-2002 Tom Barrett