By Karen McMahon
When our marriage falls apart we understandably find ourselves filled with fear and anger. Learning how to grieve and to grieve well is one of the many challenges we face. According to Tad Blackburn, a Family and Marriage pastor, we have three primary emotions, fear, anger and love. When we lose something that is important to us, we fall into fear and anger. When we grieve well, we find our way back to the many shades of love.
In working with many broken hearted husbands and wives, one of the most difficult parts of grieving is allowing ourselves the right to do it; each in our own way and at our own pace. Yet in our society, there is an impatience and discomfort with grieving. Either we are telling ourselves or those that love us are telling us to get over it, get on with it, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, ‘they’ aren’t worthy of our sadness and heartbreak. In other words, we are rarely given permission to embark on the painful yet profoundly healing process of grieving.
Without grieving well, we cannot heal and without healing we cannot let go of our pain. Consequently old pain is compounded by new pain and we continually fall back into fear and anger. The greater our fear and anger, the farther away from love we drift and the harder it is to find our way back.
Love includes forgiveness, compassion, peace, joy and absolute passion. We all want to live in these vital emotional levels, yet so few people actually do. All around us we see addiction and abuse, rage and hostility, disappointment and anxiety…the many faces of fear and anger. We are living amongst the walking wounded because we have not learned to grieve well, heal and enjoy the vitality of our love.
There are different models of grief with many variations and opinions on each. But the important thing is the process; to give ourselves the time and compassion to process our loss so that we can heal and move on. Four my purposes here I want to simply introduce you to the many range of emotions you will experience as you allow yourself to grieve well
One is denial. When you find out your spouse wants a divorce or you have tried everything to make your marriage work and see no way out except divorce, denial sets in. “I can’t believe this is happening”, “She’ll change her mind, she just needs some time”, “I must have misunderstood”, “It’s just a bad time…he is just confused…everything will work itself out.”
Another is anger. We feel wronged, betrayed, hurt, frightened, anxious, uncertain. We blame or shame or accuse or berate. We fight with what is because we cannot yet cope with the fact that this loss is really happening.
There is ambivalence or bargaining. We try to figure out how to fix it, convince the other person they are making a mistake, promise to change anything or everything to get our life back. We feel confused, uncertain; everything is murky.
Depression is common as the reality of what is happening settles in and sadness overtakes us.
In our own time and little by little, we move to acceptance as our mind begins to recalibrate our reality and come to terms with what we have lost and where that leaves us.
Grieving is not a linear process. It is more like a pendulum swinging back and forth and ultimately swinging less toward denial and anger and more toward depression and acceptance.
As some point out, acceptance is not the end but rather the middle. Once we have begun to accept our new reality, we still need to live into it and all the difficulties and challenges that come with it. Our new life may include being a single parent, re-entering the workforce after years at home, readjusting to a new social circle that doesn’t include all our married friends, missing our in-laws, downsizing our living situations, etc.
The first is to allow ourselves to grieve. To listen to your heart and trust that you need time and support to feel your feelings completely and thoroughly so that you can move through them. This is critically important because in our society, we like to avoid pain. You may be told to go to your doctor and get anti-depressant or anti-anxiety meds. You may be encouraged to begin dating or at least being sexually active to feel better. Or your may work harder, dive into your children’s lives, workout 7 days a week, drink, drug or gamble. The fact of the matter is, whatever your choice of avoidance in order to numb yourself from your pain, it will NOT serve you. We must feel our pain in order to process it and move on.
The second crucial part of grieving well is to find our way to acceptance. I have had many clients tell me that they have been grieving for years and are still in a heap load of pain. In each case they had one thing in common; they were unwilling to accept their circumstances. If you are in full resistance of who someone is or how something turned out different than you wanted or expected, how do you find your way to acceptance?
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