Dealing With Grief
by Connie Brisson
Good grief… Is there such a thing?
Many of us have experienced loss (of varying natures) during these last few years due to the pandemic, or maybe more accurately, our losses were amplified by the pandemic. All of our lives were changed in both big and small ways whether it was losing jobs, friendships, routines, health and especially the deaths of loved ones.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross famously identified the five stages of death in her book On Death and Dying and later (with co-author David Kessler) in On Grief and Grieving, they identified similar stages for grief. The five stages of grief are:
- Denial: Shock and disbelief that the loss has occurred.
- Anger: That someone we love is no longer here.
- Bargaining: All the what-ifs and regrets.
- Depression: Sadness from the loss.
- Acceptance: Acknowledging the reality of the loss.
In Finding Meaning, The Sixth Stage of Grief (Scribner, 2019), also by David Kessler, he relays two different stories that impacted me and I really want to share them with you…
“The Shattered Vase
Stephen Joseph is a psychologist and professor in the School of Education at the University of Nottingham in the UK. He tells a story he calls “The Shattered Vase.” “What if you accidentally break a treasured vase into small pieces?” he asked. “What do you do? You have a choice to try to put the vase back together, but it will never be the same. The other choice is to pick up the beautiful colored pieces and use them to make something new. Perhaps a colorful mosaic heart could be created.”
What do you do after the familiar life you loved gets broken, just like that vase? You can try to put your life back together exactly as it was, but it will remain fractured, vulnerable. Those who accept the breakage and build themselves anew become more resilient and open to new ways of living. I remind people that broken crayons can still color and while our lives may feel broken, we still have the potential to create something beautiful…
The Parable of the Long Spoons
I tell people who feel stuck in grief that the way forward is to help another person in grief. As the Buddha says, if you are a lamp for someone else, it will brighten your path. Those who are stuck will often say, “Wait, you want me to help another person when I can barely tolerate my own pain?” Or “No one else’s grief matters. My grief is the only real grief.”
I’m not suggested anything radical. It could be as simple as posting a kind word online to a newly bereaved person or taking a casserole to a grieving family or donating to a charity after a natural disaster. This is for your own sake as much as for the other person as we help them heal.
Marianne Williamson describes a condition that results when a cell malfunctions in our bodies. She says, “A cell forgets its natural function of collaborating with other healthy cells to serve the healthy functioning of the whole and instead decides to go off and do its own thing. This is called cancer, a malignancy in the body or in the mind.”
There is something about collaboration for the greater good that is programmed into our DNA. If you’ve had a year of grief and know how the worst possible pain feels, you also know the comfort of a kind word or a loving gesture. If you can find it in yourself to give to someone else, it will help two people – the recipient of the kindness and you. It will also help you become unstuck without you even realizing it.
The parable of the long spoons illustrates this point. A person is ushered through the gates of hell where he is surprised to find that they are made of finely wrought gold. They are exquisite, as is the lush green landscape that lies beyond them. He looks at his guide in disbelief. “It’s all so beautiful,” he says. “The sight of the meadows and mountains. The sounds of the birds signing in the trees and the scent of thousands of flowers. This can’t be hell.”
When the tantalizing aroma of a gourmet meal catches his attention, he enters a large dining hall. There are rows of tables laden with platters of sumptuous food, but the people seated around the tables are pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. As he gets closer, he sees that each person is holding a spoon, but the spoon is so long he can’t get the food to his mouth. Everyone is screaming and starving in agony.
Now he goes to another area where he encounters the same beauty he witnessed in hell. He sees the same scene in the dining hall with the same long spoons. But here in heaven the people seated at the tables are cheerfully talking and eating because one person is feeding someone sitting across from him.
Heaven and hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The difference is the way people treat each other. Choosing to be kind creates one kind of reality. Choosing to be self-centered creates another.”
Is there such a thing as good grief? Maybe not, but both of these stories offered me comfort, hope and practical guidance about ways to deal with some of the grief I’m feeling. And so, I wanted to use my long spoon and offer it to you too. ♥
“The only way to end grief was to go through it.”