By Comfort Shields —
In a recent reply to an “Ask the Authors” question, Gloria Horsley wrote that “Grief is work.” I found this to be profound and healing in its honesty. In our world of easy solutions and quick fixes, we are sometimes stumped, when we do not find a fast end to our grief. Although there are many strategies that can help us cope day to day, the way to find deep and long-term peace is by working through our thoughts and emotions. We need to think of grief as a process, rather than an event.
After my college love, Ben, committed suicide 15 years ago, I spent years trying to make sense of his suicide. By attending the funeral, visiting Ben’s family, and writing about my experience, some would say that I was needlessly rehashing painful memories. I felt, on the contrary, that the often painful process of working through Ben’s suicide allowed me to go on with my life stronger and more able to help others.
Jack Jordan discussed the work involved in surviving after a loved one’s suicide, in a “Healing the Grieving Heart” radio interview with Gloria and Heidi Horsley. He explained that after losing a loved one to suicide, you must “put yourself on trial.” But “give yourself a fair trial,” he added. Since there is enormous guilt and shame surrounding suicide, survivors are left wondering how they fit into the life and death of their loved one. We may need to search for meaning. We are barraged by memories, and are often left with a void that is not filled anymore by the special place the deceased had in our lives.
Coming from a background in anthropology, where I read widely about mortuary traditions, I often wish that modern society had rituals in place to help us with our grief. In non-literate societies, it is common to practice elaborate rituals of mourning that include openly weeping, asking the deceased for forgiveness, telling stories about the deceased, singing, dancing, and being open to the spirit of the deceased in a liminal phase. Even in Western society, as recently as one century ago, people embraced their grief, rather than hid it or tried to pretend that they were not grieving, by dressing in black and withdrawing from society.
In England, during Victorian times, siblings routinely wore black for six months. Widows followed this tradition for two years after losing their partner, and parents, too, often dressed in black for more than a year. This is in sharp contrast to what happens in Western society today, where it is standard to try to return to work soon after losing a loved one and to act as if we are back to our old selves. We often feel one way inside, yet we are ashamed to show our feelings on the outside, for fear that we will appear weak or ill to others.
It is healthy and normal to allow ourselves to feel the difficult emotions of sadness, guilt, shame, anger as well as the easier emotions, such as love or relief. This process can, and often does, take years, but it is worth the effort, because little by little, by working through our memories and feelings comes forgiveness and tranquility.
Comfort Shields is a writer, wife, and mother.Tags: anger, Depression, grief, guilt, hope