– A look at the pain of grief-
The above line may seem strange, even a little contradictory. “We can’t remember the future” you might say, but unfortunately we can, and sometimes these memories can cause us great pain.
When something monumental happens in our life and there are two paths to travel, we chose one and the result is we may never know what was down the other. For every choice that we make there is a negation of another choice that could have been ours. We are confronted with ourselves as a traveller on a road unable to return to a point and decide differently. How then may we live with the decisions that we make, when we also have the knowledge that we have destroyed an infinite number of other possibilities? ‘what could have been’ may haunt us forever. But what about the ultimate pain, when that choice is made for us?
When someone is taken from our lives through death we are confronted with the loss of the future we had together. When it is our mother, we remember her smile seeing her grandchild for the first time, with a sibling we may remember that 50th birthday celebration that will never happen. With a husband or wife we remember growing old together and with a child, we may remember the graduation ceremony that we will never see. Our lives stretch out ahead of us, we make plans and see what path we are on and where it may take us in 10, 20, and even 30 years. But because we have this amazing ability to think about the future so powerfully, we can also remember it when it is no longer possible. It is this memory of what could and should have been which can cause us the deepest pain.
This can be one of the most powerful factors of the grief process. A person may sit for hours clinging to the memory of what life would be like if that person was still in it. Even as life carries on and those beautiful yet painful memories subside, we still have those moments of crystal clear clarity where we can picture that person with us, what we would be doing right now if they were here, what they may say to us. Even a vivid memory of their touch can be so strong we can feel it on our skin.
What then may we do?
I believe we still have the ability and the propensity to create meaning out of the life we have, just as one life may no longer exist, there is still one that is full of hope. The path we are now on is unknown but full of potential. Therapy can truly help as it is a deep exploration of the future we may have within our reach. We may talk about the past but we do so while living in the present. The instillation of hope, the implacable grandeur of the life we still have, the search for meaning, all these factors come together to give us the power to build a new life, sturdy enough to sustain our new dreams and memories of the future.
The more fully a client may become aware of the control they have upon their actions as well as owning and accepting their experiences, the more they may be able to choose their responses unburdened by the weight of choice. It is about grasping life rather that evading and denying life. In stark contrast to this, to live in fear may destroy the possibility of living this life to our fullest ability. As one of the greatest therapists said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how”.
We must be aware of when our grief becomes too much to handle. Some signs to be aware of are firstly the physiological symptoms. These can manifest in such symptoms as diminished appetite, sleep disturbance, energy loss and exhaustion, somatic (no observable biological reason) or physical complaints. Negative feelings are expressed as the wish to have done more, perceptions of mistakes, or regrets about unresolved issues. All these thoughts and feelings can stop us living the life that we know our loved one would have undoubtedly wished us to have. When that person we love with all our heart is taken from our lives we begin to understand the importance of cherishing the present. We then must walk into the future as we live our life not just for ourselves but for the person who did not have the chance to live it with us.
As a therapist I care deeply for anyone who is in pain and I want with all my heart to help the person face their fears, accept their position, strive for new health and find a sense of peace within their lives. Facing up to the reality of death and helping my clients take the present moment with both hands and live it to the fullest is one of the greatest gifts we can share. The client I sit with may be able to move forward out of the suffering they may have being experiencing and into a new sense of peace, where we take responsibility for the life that has been left for us, even if it is without someone who we deeply wish was sharing it with us. In the end we are living two lives, the one we have and the one that was lost. We carry them with us forever, in the memories we have and will have, until we too are carried on by the heart of someone who loves us.
As Shakespeare once said
“So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”
Author Alan Oates