Tag Archives: grief

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“The Bereavement,” marble, 2010

Grief is a synonym for intense psychic pain. It is seldom invited and never welcomed. Death is not a gentle teacher. Everyone loses someone they love, and everyone dies someday. Everyone is afraid of it and everyone is angry at it. Some people say no no, I’m not mad and scared. Unfortunately, the truth doesn’t change because it is denied. Usually, everyone dies only once, and almost no one comes back to report the journey or the destination. For some, maybe that is one of the scarier aspects of death – the unknown. At least, it is intriguing. It is surely the essence of awe. We are left alive to wonder and imagine. We have lively imaginations. Continue reading

Covered ginger jar, China, c. 1895

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Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. — Soren Kierkegaard, 1843

Do thoughts of the past make you unhappy? Are you grieving? “Forget the past. You live now and into the future.” This is still the common-sense, persistent advice from the American public, the voice of the people. Many say the remedy for such unhappiness is simply to forget about it, live for today and – maybe – tomorrow. This remains conventional wisdom, the consensus opinion, the general agreement for an acceptable resolution. The people shall judge. Are the people of The Public right? Does “forget about it” solve the problems of past unhappiness and grief?

Forget the past. Such a curiously vehement, urgent order. Imagine living only in the present and into the future. Gone is childhood. Gone are youthful love and hate, joy and sorrow, laughter and tears. Gone is the spice that makes life rich, exciting, and meaningful. The sage voices of yesterday are silenced, suppressed. The advice to forget is intended as a loving kindness to us when we grieve. Forget about grief and the past. Move on, get over it. The past is past, dead and gone. Forget it.

This is an open expression of the advisor’s worldview, driven by impatience and the ubiquitous fear of death and self-awareness. In this view, death terror must be hidden and insight has no positive value. In fact, insight is seen as harmful, something to avoid and deny. Forget about it! Pursue happiness instead! According to this advisor, happiness excludes insight, the power of grasping the true nature of life and Self. This attitude lacks mature sympathy.

Furthermore, “forget the past” is an impossible imperative, however kindly it is meant. We cannot live as though the past had not happened. Our grief is one full measure of love given and/or received. To forget is also to deny this love. Forgetting would then become offensive. Why would that be desirable? It wouldn’t. Those who grieve are momentarily hypersensitized by loss and usually understand this. With such understanding, the mourner recognizes a profound absence of empathy on the part of supposed supporters. He feels misunderstood, reduced to silence, and abandoned. The supporter is exposed as emotionally bankrupt and asks the same from the mourner.

“Forget the past” is an authoritative instruction filled with fear, falsehood, and deliberately missed opportunity. (In this context, the directive often means “shut up.”) Such artificially induced forgetting is not genuine forgetting at all – not an inability to recollect. It is more like a conscious, deliberate withholding caused by self-defense and by mistrust or surrender to the supporter. It is ephemeral and provides no healthy returns for the mourner.

Now we see the past from another side. Our unique individual identity as biopsychosocial beings is a product of our whole lives: past, present, and hopes and plans for the future. The past is an undeniable part of this equation. It cannot be denied in the aftermath of a loved one’s death and our overwhelming grief. Health professionals even consider loss of the past to be a sickness: amnesia – a pathology, a defect in memory, a physiological and/or mental disorder.

The past makes us who we become. Who we are now can be explained, at least in large part, by who we were then – by our past. It is our foundation, the basis on which our identity stands. It creates the framework for the present and the future. The history of our lives is precious. We build on it. We treasure it for who was there and what it teaches us, how it informed our growing up. It begins our singular, signature life story.

Remembering can change the way we see others and the world, change it for the better. Remembering changes our Selves. Grief changes us. Active grief also holds close the memory of the loved one lost. That is the nature – and often the beauty – of grief. The past is present in memory. Ultimately, remembering becomes positive energy in the present and for the future. That is strength and growth.

Forget about it? Get over it? Move on? Better counsel may take a different path. We are beings who experience; memories from our experiences of living are all we get to keep. The past is an elegant archive of the mind, a place of intimate historical interest because of its large and ever-expanding collection of stored memories. Hold tight the past, in grief as well, and taste the tears. There is no shame in our tears. How they can refresh, once they are shed! They are filled with the promise of becoming. They are a necessary growth factor, a naturally occurring character stimulant. Memories sometimes bring tears, and that is normal and healthy. Tears are not a defect or disorder. Their absence, not their presence, may be a disorder.

The past is an agent of hope. It is present but not always conscious in our decision-making. It is a force for transformation. Metamorphosis. It is preparation for the future. Life can only be understood backwards. And understanding gradually unfolds into healing. Life is lived forwards and, with healing, into a Self more forgiving, confident, compassionate, peaceful.

The past is never dead. It is not even past.

— William Faulkner, 1936

 

Honor and revere both the present and the past; it is not a matter of either/or.

Both require gentle tending, cultivation.

Remember…

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Rea Ginsberg is a retired director of social work services, hospice coordinator, and adjunct professor of clinical social work. She can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @rginsberg2.

Tags: #past, #grief, #eol, #forgetting, #denial, #memory, #PositiveEnergy, #hope

Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms,

You would never see the true beauty of their carvings.

                                                -Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, MD

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Fore words.  To listen: concentrate and make an effort to hear someone.  To heal: treat a scarring wound by assisting in its natural repair.  To love: appreciate; care deeply; regard with affection and compassion; feel a warm personal attachment also to humanity.

The power of listening is immense and immeasurable.  It changes lives. Continue reading

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The moral life, the life that transforms lives, begins in the ear, in the act of listening.

                                                            — Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

 

Listening: we take it so much for granted that we have forgotten how to recognize and appreciate its uncommon worth.  We worry about what to do and what to say but not how to hear.  Listening is the first language skill to be acquired by the child.  Listening is a form of art.  It requires long training and a lot of humility.1   We must do it for those who grieve.  Active, involved listening leads to better understanding of others.  Those who grieve need that understanding.  Listening is a rare gift to give.  Sometimes the most healing thing we can do is to listen, just listen. Continue reading

To Tell the Truth –

The Healer’s Wound: Grief Postponed 

Rea L. Ginsberg, LCSW-C, ACSW, BCD 

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There are truths we can only tell through story. 

                                          — Jonathan Sacks, The Great Partnership 

Everyone has a story.  It is important and precious and unique.  For the teller, it is the most important story in all the world.  It is the story of personal creation.  It tells the world who he is and how he got to be that way.  It is a self-descriptor with a back story.  No other person owns that identical story.  No other person has ever lived that story or will ever have it again.  It makes the teller completely unique for all time. Continue reading

(If you are not religious or are atheist, please do not be dissuaded from reading this article by the title:)

We just had a member of our congregation die relatively unexpectedly. He was in his early 50s and a father of 6. (That’s a big equation.)

My religious job is to teach our youth (teenager) Sunday School class, when I am not working in the ER or traveling to lecture. So, in this regard, today was like most other Sundays- I had gotten up early to prepare my lesson for the day. The problem was, the lesson wasn’t relevant for the day…meaning the death of this man was on everyone’s mind, and two of his children were in my class. Continue reading

BEING-VS_-DOING

“When people talk, great things happen.”

As a society in general, we Americans seem to prefer “doing” rather than “being.”  When someone dies, we feel that we have to “do” something for the bereaved, not “be” something.  Wait: think.  Just sit and listen.  That’s better.  That’s “being.”  The gift of self is greater than the effort to act.  Action too often minimizes the grief of the bereaved.  It surrenders to an impulse to turn away from death and grief pain.  It tends to deny death.  Doing tends to minimize grief and maximize denial. Continue reading