I don’t think you ever get over the loss in your heart. I
think you have to acknowledge the fact that, when you love someone
and that person is gone, you’re going to miss him or her. And that
has nothing to do with your spiritual strength or trust or even
with whether you’ve been true to your grieving. It’s a perfectly
human thing to continue to miss [someone] who has died. When
Christmastime comes, Christmas Eve, and there’s no Cliff who’s
going to walk in the door with a big sack of presents and say, ”Hi,
Mom!” I have a hard time.
But there’s no agonizing over Cliff now. There is peace and a quiet calmness. Dean and I are comfortable with the situation. If something beautiful happens or we’re somewhere Cliff would have been with us, we’ll say, “Hi, Cliff, wish you could see this…how’s it going, ol’ boy?” Something like that, but it’s not heavy. (Excerpt from Seven Choices by Elizabeth Harper Neeld)
We feel so bad when we are grieving that it is not a surprise when we wonder, “How long will I have this terrible pain? Will this suffering ever end?”
To talk about this, we need to think about two kinds of time.
There is chronos time.
This is the kind of time measured by a calendar. Chronos time is counted in days, weeks, months, years. Chronos time describes a continuum of past, present, and future. It is the kind of time measured by clocks. A simple way to talk about chronos is as physical time.
Then there is kairos time.
Kairos time refers to “the time within which personal life moves forward.” The movement we experience as a result of moments of awakening or realization measures Kairos time. Kairos time refers to a deepening process that results from our paying attention to the present moment, a process through which we are “drawn inside the movement of our own story.” Kairos is an ordered but unmeasured kind of time outside space-time.
We might be tempted to measure the time of our grieving in chronos time. “Oh, it’s been a year—four seasons have passed—I should be ok by now.” Someone may suggest, “Give yourself a few months. You’ll feel like yourself again.” But it is not useful to measure our grieving in chronos time. In fact, chronos time is helpful only in that it gives us a span within which to experience our own kairos time. To think that because a certain amount of time has passed we should be farther along in our grieving is to set up a false measure of how well we are going. The mere passing of days and weeks and months and years does not within itself bring integration of our loss.
What matters is kairos time. What insights have I had? What have I realized? What meaning am I making of this terrible loss? We each have our own “entelechy”—to use a term from anthropology—that means our own “immanent force controlling and directing development.”
The amount of calendar time it takes to reach integration in our grieving is determined by our own kairos time, through our own entelechy. That’s why is no right or wrong amount of time an individual should take to grieve.
All that being said, what else can we note about time and grieving?
From my own experience and from the research I’ve done for decades on the grieving process, I can say this: the amount of time each of us takes to reach integration of our loss is usually longer rather than shorter.
What do I mean by this?
That the amount of kairos time it takes each of us to reach a place where the loss is integrated into our lives but does not dominate our lives is longer than “the person on the street” might suggest. Many folks around us would like for the process to be shorter rather than longer because they are not comfortable with the whole experience of grieving. As a society, we have cultural practices that suggest grieving should be short. (Don’t, for instance, many government workers get three days off when they lose a family member?)
The good news is that healthy grieving does result, at the time right for each of us, in an experience of integration. We take stock and say: I am changed by our loss, and I have changed my live as a result of my loss. And we are not shriveled permanently like a dry stick because of our loss. We can feel alive again…probably wiser, maybe quieter, certainly full of gratitude and a desire to contribute from what we have been through.
And all in good time. All in good kairos time.
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The Art of Losing
Also by Elizabeth Harper Neeld:
• What About All These Mysterious Things That Have Been Happening Since the Death?
• How Can We Hope When There Is No Hope?
• What About This Thing Called 'Acceptance'?
What Helps When We’re Experiencing the Unthinkable
Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld offers wisdom and practical insights born of personal experience to people rebuilding their lives after suffering grief and loss. As an internationally recognized and accomplished consultant, advisor, and author of more than twenty books - including Tough Transitions and Seven Choices: Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World - she is committed to work that helps lift the human spirit.
Author's photo by Joey Bieber
I lost my Uncle 6/12/2012,He was diagnosed with liver cancer.
My father committed suicide 2 years ago in May and last year in May my brother drowned in the sea on holiday in Turkey. Unbelievably the funerals took place on the same day a year apart. I've been managing alright mostly due to the exceptional support network I have in our local community but a few weeks ago my husband announced that he has been relocated to Switzerland, we are moving next week. Suddenly I find myself grieving all over again and I'm finding it impossible to pack and arrange anything. I feel very weak and often my leg muscles are trembling and don't seem to hold me up properly. We're going somewhere very beautiful, I will have time to rest when I'm there as I won't need to work for a while and it is a very great opportunity for my husband and children so really I have nothing to be upset about but I will really miss the love of my friends especially as it will take me a while to build new relationships as I don't speak French yet. I can't understand why I am being this useless!
I lost my husband of 6 years on May 3, 2012. He was diagnosed with liver cancer on March 12, 2012 and March 22 with stage IV pancreatic and biliary cancer. He had 1 round of chemo but his body was fighting back and he was unable to tolerate any more. The decision was made to go on in-home hospice April 6. I am grateful that I had these 8 weeks to spend with him but it was heartbreaking to watch him deteriorate. He was my best friend and I miss him so much. I have no children and my family lives out of state but I do have a neighbor I can talk to. The one thing that does make me happy is that the day before he died as I was going to take a shower he called me back as he wanted me to know how very much he loved me and he did not want to leave me but he knew he did not have long to live. I told him I loved him very much and I did not want to lose him but I would be okay if he had to leave and he could go be with his parents and my parents and my brother and we would meet again one day. I miss him very much and I don't know how to go on without him in my life. We met through yahoo personals October 25, 2005 was our first date, I moved in Nov 5 and before Christmas of that year we were engaged and got married May 1, 2006 and we joined a ghost research group and spent our spare time doing investigations. He never had an unkind word to say about anyone and if you were down or in a bad mood he sure could lift your spirits. He was only 59 when he died.
Rene & I met on Sept. 22, 1968 and were married in 1972. In 2008 she had emergency surgery for undiagnosed colon cancer. I took care of her from then on, as she tried to live as much as she could: Dum vivimus, vivamus! : For as long as we're alive, let's really live!
Through this past year of 2011: metastasis, inoperable; chemo did her more harm than the tumor was; radiation ditto; slow kidney failure. Home from hospital to in-home hospice on Sept. 22; to inpatient hospice a couple of weeks later. I spent some hours with her there every day, though she was mostly unconscious.
Sat., Oct. 15, when I called to say I'd be coming in, the nurse advised me to be ready to spend the night. I packed up my air mattress and so on. While there, I leaned on the bed to be as close to her as possible, holding and stroking her.
Then she was in what I think is Cheyne-Stokes respiration, a deep inbreath quickly followed by an outbreath. I was counting those to time them per minute.
Then she was just taking short inbreaths, maybe every 3-5 seconds, with no audible outbreath.
I was leaning over her, counting those, when "From the bed came a labored breath that was not followed by another." (Lois McMaster Bujold, The Hallowed Hunt, Ch. 21.)
I put my hand to her nostrils, back-up to hopefully feel the breath stirring the fine hairs on the back of the hand.
I held her close a minute or two, then pushed the call button. The nurse confirmed. So the official time was about 4 minutes after the actual time.
One of the last things she said to me was, "I will always be with you." She is. I am still blessed.
But i am oh, so sad.
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