The Healing Power of Grief

Perhaps it’s the fact that I am still exploring my own grief journey that I am so acutely aware of grief in others. Whatever the cause, that awareness is showing me that, as a culture, we are woefully unprepared and unschooled in the ways of grief. As a result, there are among us thousands of emotionally wounded people who are stuck in various phases of trauma and sorrow, unable to move forward into acceptance, resolution, and healing. They need our understanding and help, and we all need to learn the lessons they are struggling to comprehend.

I think the grief that arises from profound, and often sudden, loss is made more difficult by a failure to process change and loss throughout one’s life. When circumstances deal us a blow or even a mild disappointment, we don’t know what to do with the emptiness that follows the shock. Instead of using it as inspiration to release our sense that “this shouldn’t have happened” and venture more deeply within for meaning and resolution, we look for external ways to fill the void.

Years ago, when I lost an election for high school student council president by one vote, my mother took me shopping to “make me feel better.” It was a kind gesture but not necessarily the right remedy. I was old enough then to learn something about the ego’s pride and attachment to accolades and positions of power, but I didn’t. Instead, those lessons came later and frequently in more challenging forms. And, of course, the most difficult lesson in letting go was dealing with the heart-wrenching grief of losing my husband and soul mate, Stephen, in 2008.

A friend offered this perspective:  “Grief and pain tell us something is wrong. Some interpret death or disease as being the loss, but I think the lesson is probably more along the lines of our attachment to life in this plane—our sense of limitation, our lack of connection to Life and God. We’re connected and attached; but because of limited awareness, we tend to place a lot of importance on lesser things. When people grieve, they reflect on relationships, actions, their use of time—the ultimate opportunity for self-correction. It can be a time of regret, but I think that’s part of the self-correcting device.”

Recently, I have had occasion to discuss this subject with some elderly people. A lifetime of church-going doesn’t seem to have helped many of them—unless they were fortunate enough to also have a rich spiritual life that often developed outside of their regular church attendance. Previous psychological counseling has also helped, but today’s elderly generation was not as open to counseling as their children and grandchildren—so they missed that opportunity.

My dad had a deep, spiritual connection that he never talked about. He only mentioned it to me several years before he actually died when he got a false positive cancer report. We had a long talk about life and death. I wanted to know that he was okay with God and he wanted to know that I was happy with Stephen. Big thumbs up on both counts. He told me about his experience of feeling Jesus’s presence at a revival meeting when he went up to answer the altar call. He said the “warm feeling that everything would be okay” had never left him.

A dear lady I know has never really experienced that kind of surety. She has a very strong sense of life’s transition cycles and has made most big decisions in her life based on what felt right. So I know she is connected on that level. But the deep, soul comfort she has always wanted appears to elude her. She is very practical, but doesn’t seem to have the spiritual confidence she needs to deal with her current situation. Or perhaps I’m underestimating her.

Recently we talked about grief. She is often depressed about her arthritis pain and loss of mobility, and her companion is distraught over his increasing dementia, brought about by a stroke he suffered several years ago. They try to focus on the love they found again in their 80’s and the good years they have had together, but this gradual loss of the physical self causes a daily grief unlike any they have ever had to bear. And because they do not have a habit of psychological self-reflection, this loss is all the more difficult.

In the face of such protracted suffering, it is hard to find or give comfort. And yet, I have this sense that grief is God’s ever-present remedy for our inevitable tribulations of living in time and space. I am convinced that if we allow ourselves to deeply grieve our losses and explore their inherent lessons, we can receive the blessing of connection that comes from letting the process carry us inward and upward, to profound soul work.

It is as if time and space are destined to break our hearts. But the fact that we have hearts that can break is a sign that we are essentially spiritual in nature and, therefore, able to connect with the Divine. The broken heart can actually bridge worlds and enter into a communion with Spirit that is not normally available to the human consciousness.

It’s a different, higher state of openness and vulnerability. In that moment of our simply knowing that “we can’t do this alone,” the Divine Comforter intervenes. There is something in our dying to a sense of power in this world that makes it possible for True Comfort to be given. In our helplessness, we are bequeathed the spiritual strength to move forward and the deeply personal understanding that there is so much more to life than just the one we experience in the body.

I honestly think that realization of our ultimate powerlessness may be all that God needs of us. But we fight it so hard. Or the ego does. That small, rigid sense of self is so stubborn and defensive. It knows that if we admit our vulnerability and start intentionally relying on spiritual communion, it has lost. And that, to me, is actually what life is all about: replacing the smallness of ego with the largeness of Spirit that is always available to us.

Grieving deeply is one way to get there. And if we will allow ourselves to let go of the little disappointments, the petty attachments, and the subtle emptiness we feel when things change on a daily basis, we will have created a habit of release. Then, when the big losses come, we will naturally use the sudden absence of something or someone we loved (for the loss is always sudden, even when we know it’s coming) as impetus to reconnect with our Source. That is where healing happens and where life continues to move forward in love and blessing.

Copyright 2010 Cheryl Eckl Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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