Grief doesn’t play by the rules.
Personally, I know what it’s like to face loss. In the process of writing this book, my grandma passed away. She turned 92 on February 19, 2017 and passed away the following morning. She came from Haiti when I was 8 years old and played a big part in raising me. I saw her physically decline a month before her passing and was intentional about spending time with her and preparing for her loss. They call it anticipatory grief. The problem was that I wasn’t aware of how the loss would affect me sometime after her passing. About 2 months after she passed away, I called my parent’s home where she was living. Out of habit, I expected my grandma to pick up the phone, but she didn’t. That’s when the grief of her loss hit me. Immediately, I began crying and for the first time, I knew it was the right thing to do. The way I was raised, crying was not something you were allowed to do, especially as a man. I can recall a Haitian funeral where one man started crying and other men told him to stop crying, to be a man. That was the common phrase. I know now that real men cry. There’s no shame in it. It’s a normal and healthy way to process the pain of a loss. Unfortunately, many cultures and societies teach otherwise. There are many losses that we face that are not acknowledged but deserve attention like the loss of someone who passes away, losing a job, a breakup or divorce, the loss of health through an illness, coming to terms with childhood abuse, the loss of routines and stability from emigrating to a new country, loss of the dream of a career, or even acknowledging the poor choices made in the past as you turn your life around to be a better person, etc. It’s okay to take time to acknowledge these losses. While I am a fan of fighting to get right back up after a fall, taking time to feel the pain and grieve is a perfectly healthy thing that helps you be more whole as a person and also more compassionate for others.
When we walk around with unresolved grief, we are tempted to use unhealthy coping mechanisms like hiding/denial, minimizing, rationalizing, distracting, avoiding, addiction, becoming hostile or other unhealthy ways of not facing the pain. Years ago, I lost another close family member and did not process the pain of that loss properly. It led to a lot of unhealthy behavior that I was not even aware of. My emotions, my pain, and my experience needed to be validated but the way I dealt with the pain needed to be challenged so that it would be productive. I began to realize that there is no such thing as an unexpressed emotion. It will manifest itself in some way, shape or form. How are your unexpressed emotions or unresolved grief showing up in your life? Use the unhealthy coping mechanisms listed above to get started.
Grief is like an onion. As you slice an onion, you’ll discover that there are many layers. Also, there is no expiration date to grief. Anything can trigger the reminder of a loss – a movie, a random comment someone makes, the weather, a certain place you visit, etc. Each time you go through a layer, there are cycles you go through and you may need to revisit the cycle over and over. Here is a loose framework that you can use on your journey to healing from your pain. In especially heavy grief you may go through the five-stage cycle several times until you have fully accepted the reality of your losses. A helpful acronym is ARNMA. They are:
1. Avoidance – In this stage, there is a total avoidance and a focus on a false reality.
2. Rage – This stage is where one recognizes that their false reality is indeed false and then the rage sets in. This starts the thoughts of blaming, unfairness, and/or self-pity.
3. Negotiation – In this stage, the one experiencing the loss has some hope that the loss can be avoided or minimized in its severity.
4. Melancholy – This is a state of deep sadness and sometimes little movement and hopelessness.
5. Acknowledgment – In this stage, one embraces the loss or the inevitability of the loss.
You may go through one or several of these experiences. There is no set order to follow. The purpose of this cycle list is to normalize your experience as you go through your grief. It is a source of comfort as you process your pain so you know this is not uncommon. Many cultures say that we should get over losses quickly, sadness is a sign of weakness or you're not allowed to be depressed. We need a new culture that says
- It’s okay to acknowledge our losses.
- Processing our losses are important for our emotional development.
- We should pay attention to our losses and grieve those losses so we can be become more mature and compassionate.
I’ve been privileged to hold space with people who have experienced disappointments, traumas, and tragedies
like the loss of a career after being with a company for over a decade, a divorce after 20 years of marriage, the loss of a home and most of its possessions through fire, or the loss of a child. Hearing their raw and honest stories about their process and the kind of people they became after the trauma gave me the courage to be honest about the pain that I personally dealt with. When we begin to share our struggles and not only our successes, we can restore a greater sense of humanity in the world.
Many people come from homes where they were taught to share their pain with no one. A part of why many people live this way is for good reason – it was to protect themselves from abusive, manipulative and/or controlling people who break confidences or use emotional blackmail to get their way. Chapter 33 will provide a framework for finding SAFE People to share with and chapter 34 will deal with learning to be more assertive. Once we have established that we can be safe with our pain, we have to begin to grieve for one simple reason. Grieving allows one to live and love again with your whole heart. Have courage and take the steps.