Grief Is Loving Those Beyond Your Reach
Many people find that their lives are stalled when they lose a person who was close to them. However, the life you had with someone you loved does not disappear. They disappear, but the life you’ve had together remains. In a fantastic film by Wim Wenders, Heaven over Berlin, there’s a profound line: “Ez war einmal und wird es sein,” which means “There was once, and therefore there will always be.” There is a great comfort in this.
You always take your loved ones with you. While they’re no longer in the physical world, they live in your heart. Care is your love for those you can no longer reach. It must not be overridden as it will be when people say, “Soon you’ll be moving on.” It hurts to hear this because it reflects an attitude that you should put the life that you had with your husband, wife or parents behind you and start a new one. It’s natural to perceive this as hurtful and unpleasant.
Many people feel socially isolated when they experience great grief. People don’t know what to say or how to behave around someone who’s grieving. Some will simply avoid spending time with a friend or family member who is sad. But there are others who have genuine sympathy and do everything they can to help.
When you lose someone, it’s natural that you miss their presence. That’s an essential aspect of loving and it’s worth the price. You may avoid getting into close relationships with others so you never have to miss anyone. There are some who dare not get close to anyone because they can’t bear to lose someone close to them. But is this any way to live? Is it not better to embed the life you’ve had with your loved ones in the life you’re going to live moving forward?
The Time of Sorrow Is Long
You should not maintain a memory room for the one you’ve lost, pretending the other is still here. But grief has its time and it can be long and arduous. In this busy world, people often try to make the time of sorrow shorter than it really is. For most, the first year is the worst but that doesn’t mean the grief is gone after a year. Even after several years, you don’t stop missing the other person. You do, however, learn to miss in a way that makes it possible to live on, eventually as a happy person. One begins to exist again: going out, going to work, doing things that you like.
There’s a difference between living on and moving on. Understand the way you live on but do it in the manner of one who has lost yet still cares. At this point, your life is partly characterized by the sadness you’ve experienced. But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing more to live for. On the contrary, there’s a depth in your relationship with the outside world because you really know what it’s like to lose and therefore have a better understanding of others who have also lost.
People Grieve Differently
Some grieve one way and others another way. For example, men and women have different ways of caring. There was once a married couple who had lost their daughter. The mother cried and was deeply unhappy while the father showed hardly any reaction. He was quiet and went down to his workshop and worked. Sometimes he would go and see friends at the harbor and talk with them.
The two spouses didn’t speak much about what had happened. Both of them were getting on in their own way. But the deceased girl’s mother couldn’t understand that her husband didn’t react as she thought he should. She had read a self-help book that said it’s important to cry and get hold of the “hollow thread.” Maybe it’s right for some, but not for everyone. One should take great care not to assume that one particular reaction is the right one.
Recover But Don’t Throw Away
There are many who have researched the nature of grief. The common mindset today isn’t that you simply have to move on and leave someone behind you but that you must embed the life you’ve had with the dead in your life. This idea is also found in Christianity, namely the notion of Christian soul care.
Care is a part of life. Worry hurts, but sadness isn’t a disease. You need to find relief as soon as possible. It’s a bad situation if you’re told that now you have to put your life with your spouse, not to mention your child, behind you. You’re often told to simply get on with your life and that you won’t bring the dead back by thinking about them. This attitude is a deep violation of the mourning process.
There’s an English sociologist, Tony Walter, who discovered that you tend to hit a wall with the attitude that you must move on. What he offers instead is the idea that you shouldn’t attempt to get away from what you’ve lost. He advocates not avoiding grief but letting it become part of your self-understanding.
A Comfort If You Believe
For many, it’s a comfort to believe that God takes care of your loved ones and that you aren’t alone in existence. You can leave those you miss in God’s custody. You can ask Him to manage what you can’t manage. This includes both the one you’ve lost and your own life.
There are many who don’t profess a particular religion but have a spiritual perception that there’s more to heaven and earth than we humans understand. Others are attracted to Eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism and therefore believe in reincarnation. They believe that the soul of a dead person leaves their body and is reborn in a new body.
There are also some who believe in soul migration: rebirth after death to a new life here on earth. Others opt for a kind of hybrid religion between Christianity and Buddhism, which is entirely their own. When a person is experiencing great sorrow, you need to tread carefully. Use your empathy and your best judgment to decide whether to just let them believe what they want.
There’s a difference in remembering and preserving in the heart and imagining that the dead are still there and talking with you. People sometimes say they sit in the cemetery and talk to their deceased loved ones. If this picture gets too literal, you create the presence of the dead as a fantasy. Some people turn a lost loved one into an inner friend they can talk to about anything. They go further than embedding the memory in their minds. Now it’s not just a memory but a presence they talk to and who even answers. This isn’t a healthy approach and doesn’t allow you to overcome your grief.
It’s natural to think of what a departed loved one would have said in this or that situation. But if it becomes an actual dialogue, you’re living in a fantasy. The imagination creates the answer. The inner mind is strong and it’s not the same as the person actually being present in the here and now.
Think of the phrase from Heaven over Berlin: “There was once, and therefore there will always be.” The dead are still dead but live on in your memory. Memory, however, shouldn’t lead to dialogue. It can remember how it was but it can’t create anything new. You can have the other with you but you must also live in reality.