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Grief: A Transformative Process

by Ellen Hicks

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Grief, according to Miriam Greenspan in her book Healing through the Dark Emotions The Wisdom of Grief, Fear and Despair, is a universal response to death and loss. It is a`psychospiritual process. As the conventional ego begins to give way, the spirit can do grief work. Griefwork is not a return to the pre-loss status quo. (Pg. 92)

People do not get “back to normal” after a child dies, or after any profound loss. Grief is an opportunity not for “resolution,” as in the popular parlance, but for transformation: a wholly new awareness of reality, self, beloved and world.” (Pg .93)

What does that mean? For a person who has experienced a profound loss – whether it is the loss of child, a loved one, a job or a friend, Miriam Greenspan’s thoughts may mean many things.

People, who are experiencing a profound loss, often feel lost, alone and isolated from the world around them. There world view has been altered and the long held beliefs that all is right with the world have been shattered.

Simple daily rituals often become too much to accomplish and if the state of grief lasts more than 6 weeks, the medical profession seems to think that we are now clinically depressed and require medication.

If grief is, as Miriam Greenspan suggests, a psychospiritual process, how can one attach the concept of time to it? How can one say that six weeks after a traumatic event, all will be back to normal?

There are so many events that impact our lives. How can those who have been traumatized by war, lost loved ones as a result of domestic violence, suffered imprisonment and torture, or witnessed a devastating natural disaster be expected to “have it all together in 6 weeks?”

Yes the human spirit has tremendous resilience and there are many stories of people who have forgiven those who have oppressed them. An Incan woman I met recently remarked, “all we can do is forgive. If we remembered all that has been done to us we could not go on.”

Despite her resilience, the grief of the oppression of her people over many generations is still written on her face and witnessed in her tears. She functions in the world and has committed her life to helping others, but still the grief is present.

Why then do we suggest to those who are grieving, that all will be well; this too shall pass; just get on with it; keep busy and it won’t hurt so much? Just get back on the horse; that was then and this is now. You cannot live in the past. You just have to choose to be positive.

I am not suggesting that one does not heal, but to suggest that a person is not changed by the loss he/she may suffer seems to me to be a denial of the human journey.

Is not every aspect of our life journey, a journey to understanding of self and the world in which we live? If so, then why do we expect everyone to experience grief in the same time frame and express it in the same way? Why do we even think that we can pathologize a natural and required journey to transformation?

Why do we expect a person to just snap out of it? To suggest to a person who is grieving the death of loved one that the loved on is in a better place, may offer some modicum of comfort, but may not be where the grieving person is in his/her journey.

Let us not confuse our discomfort with their tears, silence or depressed mood, and our need to make things better while witnessing their grief, with the person’s journey of transformation - a journey from whom they knew they were, to a deeper knowledge of who they are now.

Putting together the pieces of a puzzle can sometimes take a long time and each person attacks it in his/her own way. Let us, therefore, respect that the path someone takes may be different from our own and give each person permission to walk their path to transformation in the way that brings them the greatest understanding.

M. Ellen Hicks, M Ed., C.C.C. is a counsellor, trainer and writer who last year experienced four major losses and is in the process of her own transformation. Source: Greenspan, Miriam, Healing through the Dark Emotions The Wisdom of Grief, Fear and Despair, Shambhala Publications Inc. Boston, Massachusetts, 2003


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