I've done quite a lot of reading on the subject of loss and grief, but The Grief Recovery Handbook has been more helpful than anything else. I've had this copy for a while, and even used sections of it, including some of the tools, with the support groups I lead. I've even given the book away!
Last week I noticed I'd left it out while I was shelving books during our recent move. It seemed to be a way of telling myself that it must be time to actually read it, and to engage in the work.
The basic premise of the book is that we all experience many losses in life, and not just through death. Anything that doesn't meet with our expectations creates an experience of loss, and the natural response to loss is always grief--a conflicting mass of emotions. Unfortunately, as grievers we are often discouraged from following the naturally occurring sequence of feelings and actions that help us to resolve grief and heal from it.
When loss occurs, often the message is to "be strong"--to replace the loss--to grieve alone--to not feel bad--and to just give it time, because "time will heal." None of these lead to recovery.
There are steps we can take toward healing, once we decide that we want to recover. Since unresolved grief is always about undelivered emotional communications within relationships, the steps involve telling ourselves the truth about the relationship, and completing on our own the undelivered emotional communications.
Because I believe so much in the healing steps of this process, I'm recommending that you get the book and do the steps. But I will warn you that it requires time, courage, and a willingness to feel the sadness of experiencing the loss in a deeper, more concrete way.
A helpful tool in beginning is to create a Loss History Graph, mapping out the losses you remember from birth to the present. Just draw a line across a page and begin writing what you remember, and the year or your age when it occurred. The loss can be seemingly insignificant, but include it anyway. Remember that it does not have to involve a death. Any loss (change) or wound can lead to an experience of grief. You may be surprised at what you remember!
I've found that you can't do this in one sitting.
You may even think you can't remember anything, but once you begin, things tend to come. It's as though opening one door on grief leads to the opening of other doors.
Once you've identified losses, it's useful to look at how you dealt with them. This is an important thing to know about yourself. I learned that from early childhood my way of coping with grief has been to grieve alone, or hide it. Sadness was not one of the feelings allowed at our house, so over time I pulled off "Academy Award Recoveries." Unfortunately, unacknowledged, unresolved grief gets stored in our bodies.
So we end up carrying a great deal of energy which, in order for us to be healthy, needs to be expended. That energy typically goes into Short Term Energy Relieving Behaviors--behaviors that help us to feel different, but not better. You will recognize the list: Food, Alcohol/Drugs, Anger, Exercise, Isolation, Sex, Workaholism, Fantasy, Shopping, Internet. . .
Next, -- and this was the most helpful step for me -- create a Relationship Graph based on the Loss History Graph. As you review the Loss History Graph, you may notice that you connect many losses with one particular person (living or dead). A good question to ask is, "Which of the losses in my life is limiting and restricting me most right now?"
Rather than begin with your birth, begin with your earliest memory of the person and your relationship. This graph will include good and bad experiences and memories. (Remembering only "bad" or "good" leads to a distortion of your view of the relationship.) The important thing is to tell yourself the truth. Feel what you truly feel, think what you truly think. Remember it the way you remember it!
You may recall an earlier statement, unresolved grief is always about undelivered emotional communications.
In this exercise, I chose to look at my relationship with my son, Daniel. I realized that there is a lot of disconnect in our relationship due to years of undelivered emotional communications (good and bad).
On both sides. Even though we're both still living.
The final step is to pinpoint each "loss event" within the relationship, and decide what is needed: Apologies, Forgiveness, or Significant Emotional Statements. Whew! Had enough? Stay with me, because this is the best part. This is the part of the process that brings peace, and a sense of relief and healing, since that energy can at last be expended in a healthy way.
Put it in a letter.
This letter is for YOU ALONE.
If you are afraid someone else will find and read the letter, then write it and shred, shred, shred or burn, burn, burn!!
Here are a couple of things that surprised me:
To resolve an emotionally incomplete loss, you must complete it. Completing does not mean that you will forget your loved one, or that you don't care. What we are completing is our relationship to the pain caused by the loss.
An emotionally incomplete loss is based on what we wish had ended different, better, or more.
Touch usually stops feelings. When someone is beginning to tell their grief, it's not always the best idea to rush in and hug them. It may be better to simply listen.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person. We forgive in order to reacquire our own sense of well-being.
Do not "forgive" someone in person. An unsolicited statement of forgiveness is almost always perceived as an attack!
Also, do not ask someone to forgive you. If you are asking for forgiveness, you are really trying to apologize. So make an apology.
Examples: Apologies, Forgiveness, Significant Emotional Statements
I ended up writing a letter to Daniel, and mailing it. That is pretty much the only way I can communicate with him right now, and I felt that I wanted to say some things to him--particularly the significant emotional statements.
Most of my statements looked similar to these:
I'm sorry that I. . .or I'm sorry that "this" (event) happened to you.
I did not included Forgiveness statements in the letter I actually mailed. But in the letter I didn't mail, I wrote. . .
I felt very hurt by. . .
I was disappointed when. . .
I wish that. . .
Significant Emotional Statements included things like:
Thank you for. . .
I'm so glad that. . .
I am proud of you for. . .
And I feel better. Even though at the same time I feel sadder. Sad can be good, when it is appropriate--in other words, in proportion to the loss experienced.
I keep reminding myself to just let myself feel, and that healing is a matter of moving through the pain rather than trying to circumvent it in some way. It takes courage. Be brave. Tell yourself the truth.
It's suggested, also, that you find a partner so that you can go through the exercises in the book together. It's pretty safe to say that everyone is grieving something.