A Metaphor for Grief: and how to Move Forward.
Updated: Feb 20, 2022
Grief is a hole we sometimes sit in.
Grief is the loss of an important presence in your life.
I recently had the chance to talk with quite a few people who are experiencing grief, including people who:
Are stuck in a marriage where there is no love anymore.
Lost an unborn child due to a miscarriage
Had family members pass away due to COVID
Lost their pet due to old age
Went through a breakup and are unable to accept it
Grief is a natural reaction to the loss of any of the above and it's not made of one emotion either.
One of the people I've spoken to lost a friend to suicide. She received a few missed calls in the middle of the night, and when she woke up the next morning, found that her friend was gone.
I'm sure you can imagine the amount of guilt and absolute confusion she felt with the loss.
Other times, the overwhelming feeling might be that of pain and sadness, perhaps anger and rage, or even a sense of denial and rejection.
It's such an overwhelming messy ball of emotions that we fear we might never get better.
We don't grieve in stages.
One of the most popular ideas in coping with grief is the Five stages of grief. You've probably seen this countless times already.
It says that people will go from loss to healing via the five processes below:
First comes Denial
Then comes Anger
You get Depressed
Then you Bargain
Finally you gain Acceptance
What we have to understand is that the premise of the Five stages of Grief were developed based on the experiences of people who were terminally ill. Meaning to say, the researchers built these five stages from people who faced their own death in the eye.
They were not taken from the standpoint of someone who has "lost" someone and are left behind to deal with that missing presence.
And when the researchers tried to apply this model to this latter circumstance, they found that the five stages don't really fit in with what people go through when they grief.
Why? Because grief is seldom linear - we don't go through such clear and structured stages.
Sometimes we might feel like we've taken one step forward with grief, only to fall two steps back.
Or we might feel like we are done grieving, but then you are reminded of a memory, and so you start grieving again.
That's okay, because really, that's what grief is.
Grief is a hole left behind by the "presence" that went away.
Having to lose someone or something you weren't prepared to lose is really difficult.
They leave behind this big gaping hole in your life, seemingly for you to figure out on your own how to fill it. It's empty and it's causes so much pain and hurt. It's hard to rebuild our lives around it, and trying to leads to all sorts of messy emotions to feel.
At the beginning of the loss, we spend a lot of time sitting in that hole, knee deep in our suffering.
We cry, we shout in anguish. We feel guilt and regret at how it could have been so different.
We feel hopeless that anything can ever be different. I mean how can we ever get back the person or presence we have lost forever?
Yet continuing to sit in that hole doesn't change anything. It just leaves us stuck at the bottom of the hole.
We can't force this hole to "close up", or even make it shrink in size.
It's simply just there.
Sometimes, it helps to just respect that there is this hole that has been left there by the presence that went away.
We accept that this hole is part of our lives now.
This is the first step to climbing out of it - the acceptance of what we have lost.
It may take some time, but with acceptance also comes the recognition that this is a hole we have to climb out of.
We cannot remain here forever.
We clamour out of it slowly, getting a sense of the change that has occurred in the world around us.
And that's the thing, there is still a world around us, and we have to move forward to it.
This forward-looking stance is what helps us heal. It's what allows us to relook at this new world and adapt to it. We are still in this world after all, and there are things for us to do here.
What is it you have to do? Search yourself deeply. This is what moving forward is all about.
Somedays we might return to that hole to look down into it, but that's okay.
It's really how we process grief after all. We move between these two stages of feeling grief, and moving forward.
We oscillate between those two stages of 1) Loss-orientation and 2) restoration-orientation. It's part of what the dual process model of grief is.
So on the days where you feel like sitting in that hole and feeling sad, remember that that's totally okay.
That's the Loss-Orientation coming in - an inevitable part of your mind wanting to face and remember what you've lost.
Just remember that you can't spend most of your time there, because it takes away your chance to cherish your life in the present, which includes the lives of the rest of the people who are still around you.
We also have to cherish the person who will become eventually, the future "you" who will go on and live to do great things.
And yes, you got it. That's the restoration orientation part that comes with healing, and the implicit knowledge where you know, deep down, you have to move on.
When you do visit that hole, remind yourself that it's not a "bad thing" or even unhealthy at all.
At times, you might want to revisit that hole for the sake of nostalgia. Perhaps because it feels comforting to float in the memory of that lost presence.
They are fond memories after all.
Or perhaps you want to be in that hole to give your respects to the one you lost. To send the quiet message that "I haven't forgotten you" and "I miss you, you know?"
That's okay - embrace it. That's what grieving is.
And perhaps right now, your relationship to the memories of that lost presence is of pain and hurt. But one day, it will start to feel a little bittersweet.
When that comes, that's it. That's what moving on feels like.
What is moving on really but to start filling that hole with fond memories of what once was.
Yes, that hole will always be there, but it doesn't have to be empty. Fill it with all the happy memories of that presence. They don't all have to be happy either, but can be made of the bittersweet times too.
Fill it with the remembrance of the presence once cherished and is now lost. Fill it with love and compassion. Don't let it remain empty. Nourish it. Keep planting your hopes and dreams of the future into it.
Turn it into your very own little garden.
And keep moving on.
Take care and I hope you are doing okay with what's going on in your life. Thanks for dropping by and if you ever wanted to chat, you know where to find me. Take care, Hernping.