A number of people have exclaimed to me: “It’s spring and it’s beautiful and yet I only feel sadder. I thought my sorrow would lift in the spring, yet I feel even heavier.”
They go on to ask: “This doesn’t make sense, does it?”
They are right – how does this make sense, as don’t we think of spring as a time of re-birth? The trees are sprouting buds and leaves, the grass is getting long enough to mow, flowers of
varying hues are blooming, and the birds are singing songs of joy! So why do some folks feel more grief in the spring when everything is bursting with new growth? I believe it’s precisely
because Spring is so lovely and new that this season of growth makes our hearts ache again for what or who we lost. And it’s the very fact that Spring is bursting and expanding while we
are contracting in our grief that makes us feel heavier and more sorrowful. This contrast between the re-birth of springtime and our own state of bereavement is perhaps the single biggest
reason why some of us carry greater sadness in this season.
So – how do we live with this contradiction between what we are feeling on the inside and what is happening on the outside with new growth?
First, we drop our expectations for how we SHOULD be feeling. The belief that we should be feeling better, not worse, because it’s Spring makes our grief weightier.
Instead, let’s accept where we are RIGHT NOW on our grief journey and all that means for us at the present moment.
Second, we also recognize and embrace the idea of impermanence. We realize that things are constantly changing, and that the weight of sorrow we carry will
also evolve over time.
Finally, we realize, that, like Spring, we are also growing. Even though the signs of our own growth may be imperceptible to us at the moment, they are underneath the dirt,
and one day, small roots will emerge and turn into new plants bursting with energy.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY
Today may I accept myself just as I am, knowing that like the blooms of spring, I, too, am growing new roots in the midst of my sorrow.
There’s been a lot in the news lately about deep loss and despairing grief. The peers of those seventeen young students massacred in the Parkland Florida school shooting have described some of the trauma they endured while the gunman was an active shooter. The parents have discussed their horrific nightmare in vivid terms – sleepless nights, ruminations about how their son or daughter died, triggers that elicit fond memories but also evoke helplessness and lack of hope. When someone we love dies in such an unexpected and shocking way, the survivors often experience psychological trauma in addition to the loss itself.
When we experience a loss or death as traumatic, this makes it more challenging to process and integrate our grief in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Our daily functioning is adversely impacted. We go through the motions of “going on” but may feel disconnected from our bodies, move through the day feeling like a zombie, toss and turn and find sleep elusive, and wake up remembering what can only be described as a horrible dream.
During the middle of traumatic loss, we may shut down and feel so disempowered that reaching out to others for support or for help feels impossible. Over time, we may find that professional help from a bereavement specialist is required. Interventions and treatments for traumatic loss include identifying and using a variety of coping skills and strategies, confronting rather than avoiding triggers of the loss, exploring thoughts and beliefs about the loss, processing our feelings and emotions, identifying shattered assumptions, and learning to connect with supportive others.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY
In the midst of great sorrow and loss, may I connect with my indomitable and unquenchable human spirit to help me through great suffering with ease and grace.
On the heels of the umpteenth school shooting in the United States, I saw a heart wrenching interview with a mother whose daughter was killed in the shooting who had just emerged from making funeral and burial arrangements. Her grief was palpable- and so was her rage. She was incensed and smoldering like embers of a lingering fire that will not be put out by just a dousing of water here and there. I suspect her rage and grief will continue to burn for many years.
Of course the deeper question is how will her grief move her and anyone else to change? Do we become desensitized or numb or complacent unless we or our loved ones are the targets? The victims of a shooting, a natural disaster, or a health crisis? Or something else?
There’s no doubt in my mind that grief and sorrow can become energizing forces for change. After my beloved husband Jay died from a sudden diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer, I’ve been on a crusade to change exposure to environmental triggers for cancer, now an epidemic in the United States. I suspect this mother will be on a mission during the course of her life to change laws and policies about gun violence in our country. But we need support. We can’t do it alone. We need to be able to process and digest our sorrow as much as we need to use our feelings to contribute to societal and cultural change.
A recent Instagram post showed the words “thoughts and prayers” crossed out and replaced with the words “policies and change.” Is it enough to offer grief survivors our thoughts and prayers in the way of condolences? After all, that is what typically happens when someone loves a precious daughter or son or spouse or sibling. Thoughts and prayers are insufficient. In the midst of our sorrow and rage, we want much more than thoughts and prayers. We want commitments to policy changes. We want new laws and regulations. We want action! We want leaders at our local, state, and national levels to step up and be role models for our rage. We want to see our rage internalized by our leaders who stop offering just thoughts and prayers and start leading and providing real solutions with actual outcomes. We want to see our neighbors and friends and communities internalize our rage and demand our leaders do better or elect new leaders who will! It is unbearable to have to bury our young child who was randomly killed in a senseless act of violence. Please don’t leave us to bear our sorrow and grief and rage alone.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY
Today I will find ways to make a difference in my world and to find solutions for problems that lead to unnecessary and senseless deaths. I will devote time each day to these actions, knowing that actions always speak louder than thoughts and prayers and words.
I once heard Robin Roberts describe a term called “happy sorrow” that was used in her family to describe the feelings that someone has after losing a beloved. In the movie Shadowlands, the same concept is described as “pain filled joy.” It’s the idea that we can be sad and happy at the same time. We are sad we lost someone precious to us and we are also gladdened by the way their presence graced our lives. In some ways, sorrow is a small price to pay for the experience of loving and being loved by someone so essential to us.
This week I met Rowena, a woman whose husband died five years ago. Discovering that my husband had died ten years ago, she wondered aloud if things would get better. “I still feel so fragile and sad. Does this change over time?”
It’s really a myth to believe that everything or everyone we lose engenders nothing but sadness, sorrow, and even despair. Feelings, even very intense ones, are never permanent. Instead, grief while not linear, cycles through periods of intensity like waves in an ocean, calm on one day by slackened winds, and ferocious on another by a passing storm. Yet like the passing storm, even the darkest of hours and the deepest of grief has periods of relief and usually lessens over time.
Does this happen because we love the one we lost less? I don’t think so. I think it occurs because our gratitude for the person we lost often deepens with time elapsed and because our perspective shifts. Sooner or later, we realize that our heartfelt loss simply connects us to a whole other world out there of fellow grief survivors who like us, are sojourning foreign territory. We understand that we are not on this trip alone – we are companioned by a host of other people putting one foot in front of the other, just as we are, in coping with the unraveling of life as we knew it and venturing into a new time and space.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY
Today I will be mindful of my breath to calm my monkey mind and let my worries about the future evaporate. I will reach out to others to help me focus on the present.