I've been learning a lot about grief lately, and it's very interesting. So much of grief that I've experienced others have also experienced, no matter who was lost, what age and how; of course though, people choose how they experience grief. On a sliding scale, some people have a hard time with it, and not grieve properly or at all, there are those that grieve perfectly, as deemed by professionals, and then there are those that get stuck and can't find their way out. I like to find myself somewhere in between the two extremes, but it was work that took lots of patience, support and time to get to there.
What I learned from attending a recent educational event on grief, is that grief is like an iceberg. When others look at the person experiencing grief and loss they only see the portion of the iceberg above water, which is always the smallest area. So people try their best to support you, cheer you up, send positive messages, etc, but they don't see or realize where the real work needs to be done, and how much work there actually is (bottom of the iceberg). The top of the iceberg is merely the facade. It has to look good, and continue to move forward "normally" each day. But the real work is done below the surface, privately, where no one else can see, and no one can directly help with. People can definitely help provide a supportive environment for the deep work that needs to be done, but there's only so much others can do, because the real healing comes from within. The person experiencing loss and grief essentially has to re-create a relationship with the deceased, whatever that looks like; it's an essential component of living with grief. Remembering them, and including them in your lives is vital to living with grief in a healthy way.
I also learned from the session, that families who share the same grief, don't usually grieve together, which I already learned from personal experience. Families usually appear to be grieving together, but are actually doing so in a much more private way. There is a really interesting old painting I saw that depicts this very well: a family grieving in a hospital room over the death of a loved one, and each person is looking outward, against a wall, or into their laps, none at each other, none able to seek the support of the other.
Coincidancing, a new term I learnt that I've experienced many times and can now put a label on it. It's the idea of finding new meaning in things, and connecting them to the loss, but in things you have always had, or knew about; you are suddenly finding them as coincidences connected to your loved one. This is essentially your mind trying to find meaning and continued connection to the lost one. It's a great feeling, it does provide that connection, and a strong sense of a spiritual presence. I'll give you a good example of an instance this happened to me last spring. I was driving alone, and a song started playing that I first heard when Ethan was a baby. I have a very vivid memory of it; I was singing and dancing with baby Ethan, and remember him giggling as we danced. A great memory to be re-lived and to be re-created into a new one. So I was driving, and a lyric that played over and over popped out and spoke to me. I had never remembered hearing this lyric before, in the many times I listened to this song, I always only sang the catchy chorus. This is what jumped out at me, it hit me hard and I started crying tears of peace and a feeling of safety:
"Even though we're six feet underground, I know that we'll be safe and sound".
When I first heard it, I felt as if it the message was meant for me only. In my own head I heard it this way though:
"Even though, I'm six feet under, know that I'm safe and sound",
I played it over and over and over that day. Even the title of the song didn't mean anything to me until I heard it that day. The feeling was indescribable, and I think this is the first time I've shared this. The song is called "Safe & Sound", by Capital Cities. I have been experiencing these coincidences for awhile now, every time I hear a love song about a broken heart, it's about Isabel, every time a little bird comes close to me, it's her, every time my eyes find the name Isabel wherever I see it, she is there, even in a long list, even on someones Starbucks cup left on a store shelf, somehow these things keep happening. I'm so grateful I keep recognizing them, these little signs provide peace and comfort, and they help create that everlasting connection, because the reality is I can't have a physical relationship, but I definitely can have a spiritual one.
One last thing that reinforced my grief experience was this statement: those that experience post-traumatic stress, usually experience post-traumatic growth. But not always. When grief is low or not experienced, then growth is low. But when grief is high, growth is also very high. I had a moment with this information, and really had to sit with it. I feel like I've grown so much, and want to keep growing because of the grief I experienced. I'm different, mostly in good ways, others not so good. I'm growing, and not stagnant. Isn't that what life's about, always changing, and always adapting to the change. I've learned that life can't be lived without growth. It's vital. And grieving appropriately is about finding that middle balance between grief being banished completely and getting stuck or sinking in it. Finding a comfortable place for grief in your life and heart takes time, patience, practice and support. And it's okay to be on either side of the spectrum for short periods, because grief comes and goes in waves, and healing is in no way linear. But to have a life filled with joy, we must learn to live with grief and find a safe home for it.
Beginning a grief journey is like a caterpillar going into its cocoon, and then coming out of grief, is coming out of that cocoon as a butterfly. New, different, beautiful and strong.
Peace & Love