Week 31′s Change Challenge: What is the Purpose of Grief?
Last week’s Change Challenge asked the question: What is one thing you’d like to release or let go of? Thank you to the many who had the courage to share their answers.
Letting go of something always involves the process of grieving. The things we find the hardest to let go of are often the most tied to our identity and personal story of self-worth. When we lose a loved one through death, we must process and express the feelings and pain involved. However, another crucial component is working through a different relationship with the one we lost. A personal example is that after I miscarried my son at 19 weeks, I had to work through the understanding that I didn’t just lose a baby, but I am a mom to four: one in heaven and three with me. I no longer wanted my identity to be, in my eyes, “the woman who had a late miscarriage”, but a proud mom of four who looks forward to meeting her youngest one day.
Similarly, the loss of a healthy relationship due to abuse or alcoholism or narcissism or a whole slew of possibilities, also involves the process of grief. A great and simple article by Dr. Therese Rando helps us understand this process (italicized words added by me in order to reflect the grief of letting go of a desired relationship):
Grief responses are natural reactions when you experience loss and separation from those you love. They express three things:
1. Your feelings about the loss.
2. Your protest at the loss and your wish to undo it and have it not be true.
3. The effects you experience from the assault on you caused by the loss.
However, the ultimate goal of grief and mourning is to take you beyond these reactions to the loss. It requires your working actively on adapting to it. The therapeutic purpose of grief and mourning is to get you to the point where you can live with the loss healthily, after having made the necessary changes to do so.
What must you do to get to this point? You must:
1. Change your relationship with your loved one—recognizing he now is dead (or unable to have the type of relationship you desire) and developing new ways of relating to him.
2. Develop a new sense of yourself to reflect the many changes that occurred when you lost your loved one.
3. Take on healthy new ways of being in the world without your loved one.
4 . Find new people, objects or pursuits in which to put the emotional investment that you once placed in your relationship with the deceased.
The bottom line of this active work of grief and mourning, therefore, is to help you recognize that your loved one is gone (or unable to relate in a healthy manner) and then to make the necessary internal (psychological) and external (social) changes to accomodate this reality.
Taken from Therese A. Rando, How To Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies. New York: Bantam Books, 1991, pp 18-19.
Let’s work through the above steps using the example I gave last week. I stated that I would like to let go of my constant fear of doing or saying something wrong. I stated above that the things we find hardest to let go of are tied in with our sense of identity and personal story of self-worth. Understanding this is crucial to change. If I ask myself how my fear connects with my sense of identity, I discover that, fundamentally, I believe that I am only worthy of love and acceptance if I do everything well and right. I want to emphasize that this is my personal journey I’m sharing. We each have our own stories and your process will look very different, and that’s okay! If you realize that you need some help going through this journey, please know that all of us at I Choose Change consider it a privilege to be walk with you.
Letting go of this core belief involves processing my feelings about it and working through the steps in the article above:
1) In this case, my relationship with loved ones involves nearly everyone. My relationships need to change in that I want and need to rethink them in terms of finding joy and communing with my friends and family for who they are and allowing them to do the same. To be in the moment and present in relationships.
2) My new sense of myself is that I am not perfect and to be okay with that. But that I am deeply loved despite and, remarkably, at times because of my imperfections, and that is something to celebrate!
3) My “loved one” is my old way of relating, which is not so loved. One of the healthy ways I would like to start being in the world is to constantly be aware of how loved I am by God, my family and friends. To be aware that not one of them asks for perfection from me.
4) In my case, I don’t necessarily need to find new relationships or objects, but change my focus from myself and my shortcomings to being completely present in relationships.
Answer the question to win a $5 Starbucks gift card:
What do you believe the purpose of grief is?