What happens after the heartbreak of losing someone you love?
July 15th, 2020
I mainly work with adults, bereaved as children. We're looking at what I call the long arc of grief and I'm often asked, "When does it get better? When does it go away?". It doesn't ever get better, it doesn't get easier or harder; it just gets different. We incorporate that loss and that person and what they meant to us into our developing personalities, which are developing I think throughout our lifetimes. Our brain structure is still developing until the mid 20's. So we carry them forward with us. What happens after the heartbreak is very much our choice. What are we going to make of this? Meaning is not something that we necessarily find — it's something we choose. It's something we actively develop. We have agency in that process. What happens after the heartbreak is what we choose to make of this loss and how we are going to carry that person forward.
July 15th, 2020
What happens is unique for everyone. What I wish for everyone is the permission to grieve. I wish we would all recognize that we have a necessity to grieve, any way that it happens. There is not one correct way. I'm not suggesting that everyone become catatonic and cry for several months like I did, (though some people may). Recognizing what's transformed in life and allowing for the transformation is essential to healing which is not the same as being healed. Grief is a lifelong process. Grief is what fuels the newly evolving relationship with the person who died. Giving yourself permission to say, "My world has changed and I don't know how this is going to evolve" is the first thing. Acknowledge and honor it.
It's also important to help the people around you to give you permission to allow your grief to unfold. In the US thus far, we've had very constrained thoughts about what bereavement can and cannot look like. Most employment settings designate how many days you may or may not be allowed to take off to grieve depending upon your relationship with the person who died. If it's an immediate family member, meaning a parent or child or sibling, you get so many days.
This is ludicrous on two counts: first it assumes we uniformly value and prioritize love in specific relationships, which just may not be the case. For example, many acknowledge the love of their pet as one of their truest and deepest relationships. Yet this relationship is diminished by the of a hierarchy of grief outlined by permissible leave for bereavement from work. For us to be so stringent and restrictive in what our concept is of what a relationship is and what constitutes grief that is worthy of taking time away from work for a strict and specified period of time, is just illogical and not humane. Allowing ourselves permission to grieve and letting our community know so they can support us is essential.
I often suggest that if you broke your leg, you'd know all the ways you'd have to pause and do things differently to support your leg's ability to heal. And people around you would readily recognize and support you in your healing because it's such a clear and visible injury. If you tried to walk on a broken leg, people would stop you. If you're a marathoner and tried to expedite your return to running before your bones were ready, you'd recognize pain as your body's way of telling you to stop. Yet we have not tuned our senses into the pain of grief as our body and soul's way of communicating the need to pause and heal and get support the way we would with a visible injury. The episodic nature of grief pains points to the reality that healing grief happens throughout the rest of our lives.