Grief – Finding Your Way to Hope

Grief – likely to be the primary emotion if the world around us collapses.  The following article was written for and is re-printed here by permission of the author. 

* * *

Inconsolable grief

Image via Wikipedia

Unless you’ve experienced it first-hand, true grief is incomprehensible.

Sure, everyone understands unhappiness, possibly even misery. But until you’ve gone through gut-wrenching loss and subsequent recovery, you cannot speak about grief knowledgeably.

Some might disagree. I might have myself – as an overeducated medical student who equated knowledge with wisdom. But no matter how many patients I watched suffer and die, it did not prepare me for the despair, the agony, the loneliness of enduring it personally.

What is grief?

Above all it’s a feeling – the feeling that your breath has been sucked out of you; that your body is a meaningless shell; that you’ve lost all reason to live. Grief is an endless void; a world filled with emptiness. You feel betrayed by former joys, by life, by God; your heart is dead without hope of recovery.

The five stages of grief are well-known: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. In twenty-some years as a family physician I’ve witnessed most people “breeze through” the first three stages relatively unscathed. A few become addicted to anger, choosing to live out their years raging at God and the world.

But where most people get stuck is depression. The fear that you’ll never be the same again becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One mistake people make is believing they are grieving for another person, when, in fact, they grieve for themselves. Certainly if you’ve lost a loved one, a child perhaps, you feel terrible for the pain they’ve experienced. But what tears your heart to pieces is losing a part of yourself. You picture your life one way, when suddenly, it’s changed, and there’s nothing you can do to reverse the process. The loss of your hopes, your dreams, your planned future is what really cuts deep. And with the loss of yourself, you cut off others who might help. Guilt and blame become your daily companions.

Americans don’t really know how to grieve. Perhaps as a nation we’ve been too blessed. We expect people to “get over it,” praising them when they do so. People rush back to work, pasting a smile on their faces when inside they’re dying. Medication is suggested when others become uncomfortable with your despair.

But each of us is responsible for working through our own grief. Fortunately, a seed of hope is all you need to begin.

Grief makes the human spirit rebel in outrage, and rightly so. Much of what we experience in life is unfair. Job railed against God when his torment became unbearable – and God understood, much as a parent understands and forgives a child’s tirade.

So the first step to recovery is to let the pain out – in waves, in gasps, in weeping. Tell God you’re angry. Show him your heart is bleeding.

Then, when you’re too tired to go on, allow your soul and spirit to rest. Sleep heals the mind and body, and matters more than keeping up a good appearance.

But be forewarned: the pain will recur, the cycle will repeat. One good cry is not enough to wash the heartache away.

It may take a week, it may take a month, but look for the day when something, anything, catches your interest. It may be fleeting, so write it down. Take it as a sign of healing, a tiny seed of hope. Pay attention when this occurs and nurture the feeling. Water your hope like a living blossom.

When you catch a glimpse of the world outside yourself, you’re looking at the road to recovery. As soon as a tiny part of yourself has healed, share that part with another. You won’t lose it by giving it away – you’ll make it stronger.

Indulge yourself in what makes your heart sing. That’s the real you, not the crippled spirit that’s been struggling to breathe. Find the child inside and allow yourself to play. Realize that, just like a person needs to make it a priority to allow the body to heal after surgery, you must make it a priority to heal after your spirit has been injured.

Look at the process from outside yourself. Try to see that, though your spirit was injured, your soul is intact. Although some people benefit from an antidepressant, the time-honored cure for grief is grieving. So get to work and go have a good cry. God is watching and still cares for you.

Copyright © 2010 Cynthia Koelker, MD

Enhanced by Zemanta

About Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

CYNTHIA J KOELKER , MD is a board-certified family physician with over twenty years of clinical experience. A member of American Mensa, Dr. Koelker holds degrees in biology, humanities, medicine, and music from M.I.T., Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the University of Akron. She served in the National Health Service Corps to finance her medical education.
This entry was posted in Acute diseases, Anger, Antidepressants, Anxiety, acute, Chronic diseases, Death and dying, Depression, Depression, Grief, Medical archives, Mental health, Poetry & Prose, Public health, Spiritual health and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Grief – Finding Your Way to Hope

  1. MJ says:

    There are very good homeopathics that can . . .

    [A reader offers the opinion that homeopathics are effective for grief as well as physical ailments. The field of homeopathy seems to me to be that of a placebo effect. If homeopathic meds are stronger the more they are diluted, then it would make sense that recirculated rain/surface/ocean water would be the most effective remedy. I have, therefore, edited the above comment. – Doc Cindy

Leave a Reply to MJ Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *