Alan Wolfelt's book called 'Understanding Your Grief' has helped me in healing from my most recent loss - the death of my granddaughter, Nevaeh. In his book, Wolfelt discusses the ten essential touchstones for finding hope and healing your heart from the loss of a loved one. The first touchstone is called "Open to the presence of your loss".
He says that when it comes to grief: you can't go around it, you can't go through it, you can't go over it, and you can't go under it. You have to go through it. I have found this to be so very true.
I did not want to face the death of a Nevaeh because of the pain. I did not want to feel pain - pain is bad. What I did not realize, and what Wolfelt helped me to realize, was pain is an indication that I am doing the griefwork necessary to heal - I am feeling my feelings. Just like the pain of a broken arm compels one to seek medical attention for healing - the pain of grief compels you to heal your heart. Like broken arm pain, grief pain does not last forever - provided you go through it. If you deny it, it will not only last forever, but it can turn into depression. Depression exasperates grief making it almost impossible to grieve.
One of the questions Wolfelt asked which helped me a lot was "What does it mean to honor your pain?" For me, it meant to let it wash over me in waves enough that I could handle but not drown. It meant crying whenever and wherever I was and not making apologies for my feelings. It meant wrapping a doll in Nevaeh's baby blanket and rocking her while I cried. It meant honoring myself for all that I felt and all that I lost.
I not only lost my granddaughter - I lost being her grandmother. I lost the special-tie that bound my daughter and me together as I helped her care for Nevaeh's special needs. I lost other relationships that did not support or understand what I was going through. I lost a career I thought I would have for the rest of my life. So many secondary losses kept adding to the loss of Nevaeh. In recognizing all those loses I more fully honored what had and was happening to me.
Wolfelt encourages us to take a loss inventory: The first loss I recall was the loss of my dog. Her name was Pepper. I was about 8 years-old and my parents were not very keen on encouraging or accepting children's emotions. Children were to be seen, not heard. As a result I did not heal from that loss. The next loss I recall was the loss of my great Uncle - who was my perpetrator. That loss caused a lot of mixed emotion. I hated him and was happy he was dead, but I was also sad because my family was sad. The next loss was my grandmother's death, which hurt me deeply. But I was a new mother and had no time to grieve that loss properly. The next loss was my father's death. I felt like I was going to loose my mind so I stuffed all of that because I did not want to go crazy. The next loss was my brother's death. I numbed out on that one. It was too much to bare. The last significant loss in my life was the death of my granddaughter - Nevaeh (pictured here). When she died I was smart enough to know that if I did not deal with her loss - and subsequently all the other unresolved losses that arose because of her death, then I would surely become a bitter, angry, unhealthy and unhappy soul. Nevaeh gave me the courage I needed to face the losses of my life. I went through the loss of Nevaeh - not around it, not over it, not behind it - I went full force through it. Three years later I can honestly say I am a much better person for having gone through it. Honestly, I am still going through it. Death is not something you get over. It is something you learn to live with.
I found that many people tried to protect themselves from the pain of her loss by trying to make me stop grieving. They couldn't stand to watch me go through the grieving process because it brought up unresolved grief of their own. I had to let go of those people and realize they had their own stuff to handle. I was handling enough. My plate was full. It was very difficult to lose Nevaeh and other important relationships. All of those losses made grieving Nevaeh almost unbearable at times.
What were some of your early losses that contributed to the complication of your current grief?
What does it mean to honor your grief?
What do you want to experience in your grieving process?