“Awareness may not diminish the enormity of our pain in all circumstances. It does provide a bigger basket for tenderly holding and intimately knowing our suffering in any and all circumstances, and that, it turns out, is transformative and healing.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Loss, Grief, Healing, and Transformation are four powerful and universal experiences. Loss is all around us and its impact is unique to each individual experiencing it. We experience loss when we; do not meet a goal, miss out on an opportunity, age, lose a job, change jobs, move, go through a breakup/separation/divorce, experience an illness or injury, have a loved one with an illness or injury, or experience a death. This is not a conclusive list; there are other forms of loss. Loss is often about a change or a shift in our lives which requires us to grieve and accept a new reality. It is a normal and natural part of life, although not an easy one. Grief is our reaction to the loss. Through the grief process we heal and ease into the change and transform.
There is no step by step way to heal. However, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has normalized the intense emotions of grief and grieving with her “Five Stages of Grief”. It is important to note and Elisabeth talks about this in her work that the stages are really just a framework to help us understand the feelings associated with loss. It is not a step by step approach, work through one stage and move onto the next, it is not linear. You may experience one stage or all five and you may jump around from stage to stage. Again the impact of loss and the process of grieving is unique to the individual experiencing it. There is no right or wrong way to grieve; however, there can be healthy and unhealthy ways to cope. The five stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance and Elisabeth refers to them as tools to help you become knowledgeable of grief’s terrain and be better equipped to cope with life and loss. I believe just like the stages healing and transformation are not static. I believe there isn’t an end point, you don’t experience a loss and then heal and transform, done, instead I see it is process and a practice.
An example of loss, grief, healing, and transformation being a process and practice is in the case of having a loved one experience an illness or accident. In these situations, the person you love is physically alive, but you go through an emotional loss. You must learn to live with a new reality, a new relationship with this person. Maybe they need physical care, maybe they have changed cognitively, and for sure they will need emotional support as they experience their own loss. And while you may work through the stages in your own way and come to a place of acceptance you may have moments where you are hit with the pain of the loss and are challenged to work through the anger, depression, or denial all over again. This is not a setback, this is a moment to practice, to allow your feelings and listen to your needs to create a space to heal, grow, and transform.
For more information on the Stages of Grief, I recommend the book On Grief and Grieving by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler. Through the process of coming to terms with your loss by turning towards and experiencing the painful emotions (on your own time at your own pace) you may come to that healing place where you feel comfort in your pain. When that pain is no longer something you avoid, but something you experience as a reminder of the deep love and connection you have for the person you lost, or the strong desire you had to reach a goal important to you, or the passion you had for a lost job. This is the work and the practice of healing and transforming.
“The pain now is part of the happiness then.” – C.S. Lewis