There is a phase in the grief process that feels like fragmentation. There are few words that can describe the gut-wrenching pain of this part of grief. Many people say it's like their self is being torn apart or that the anguish they feel coursing through their body is unbearable.

While I believe everyone experiences grief uniquely, it has been my experience that making room for the expression of anguish and emotional pain, is critical to healing. I believe the rage and howl of grief are legitimate and understandable. Death is permanent physical separation. As biological creatures we feel this separation profoundly in the very muscles, skeleton, and organs of our body. But creating a safe container (place of empathy, respect, and holding) for howling is an art form. I recommend that if you are in this phase of grief, then you find a guide who can facilitate your natural expression of intense emotion.

Traditional societies had/have mature and well-crafted ways to hold and help individuals whose grief brings them to howling. In fact, one such society, an african tribe, has a saying that when the people start getting angry with each other, it's time to grieve. There is something to this idea, that if we don't howl our grief (in safe ways), then we may displace or direct our rage at others who haven't really done anything to deserve it.

In our society, funerals and memorial ceremonies tend to be containers for the howling of grief. However, many of these rituals have been abridged and don't feel safe or meaningful enough for some people. As a result, we are faced with creating our own rituals for emotional expression. But emotional expression is only one part of the healing process. We also have to use our minds and reasoning capacities to sort through and make meaning of loss. I support howling out the pain of loss in safe and well-structured containers. But I also encourage cognitively processing the expression of intense feelings with a guide or facilitator. In our so-called modern, mainstream society, the traditional medicine man/woman has been replaced by the therapist. A therapist who has been trained and has had significant experience in the expanse and depth of all phases of grief, can be a great help in the recovery process. I find this recovery process to unfold optimally within the context of a solid therapeutic relationship.

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Comment by David Fireman on March 5, 2010 at 9:47am
Lori: Take a look at a book called the Mercy Papers, by Robin Romm. She takes on the howling aspect of grief; the ferocity of love and loss. The book is unapologetically raw. Now more directly to your comment: In my practice, I tell people variations on this theme: Grief is a process that may be painful, but it has healing qualities. So tolerate the difficult emotions and express them to yourself and others. Anger, sadness, frustration, loneliness, vulnerability, helplessness, emptiness and others may all be present. The mourning process can be very painful because of the intensity and range of feelings that arise. It is healthier to let them be and not try to sweep them under the rug. Having said this, it is also important to modify the statement by adding that it's not OK to express these feelings in a way that harms yourself or others. It isn't the feelings themselves that can cause damage; it's what we do with them or how we express them that needs to be monitored. In doing so, be aware of the burden you place on others. You can't ask people to help you beyond their own ability to tolerate feelings. Thus, we can't expect friends and realtives to be continuously receptive. We have to be aware of their limits. There is no point in being bitter if they simply can't keep listening and absorbing your grief. Ask from them only what they can give or you may be sorely disappointed. In terms of your counselor, I would recommend strongly that you address the fact that you are talking around your feelings and softening them. Reflect on why you are doing that. Is that something you tend to do more generally? If not, then why with your counselor? Talk about it with him/her. Part of counseling is exploring what is happening in the counseling relationship (it is a relationship, just a unique kind of relationship). I would be surprised if your counselor wasn't receptive to this important subject. Best wishes.
Comment by Lori on March 4, 2010 at 10:34pm
The howling part...just doesn't seem to be passing. I'm so angry, and get angry at everyone that it seems easier to not talk at all. Now I managed to push everyone away and don't know how to reconnect. I have a counselor but I find myself talking around my feelings, softening them, so I don't have to actually say them.
Comment by David Fireman on February 25, 2010 at 5:46pm
Leslie: I appreciate your comment. I think it may illustrate that while grief is universal (we'll all experience it at some point), it is also extremely personal (no one will experience it the same way as me). I should also say that in this context, my writing style is a bit more didactic than experiential, so perhaps you are reacting to that. However, since your comment, I have thought about including an entry that is more personal.
Best wishes.
Comment by Leslie L. Fiorda on February 22, 2010 at 8:37pm
I just wondered...have you ever lost a child or someone very close? Although I believe in the validity of what you are saying; I havent read anything that really shows me that you know "personally" what you are talking about. Absolutely no disrespect intended. I really needed to know.

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