“Good grieving” is the process of responding and adjusting to change and loss, while learning how to keep your heart open to hope. Everyone grieves; it is not possible to not grieve. Your only choice is to grieve well or to grieve poorly.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “No one steps into the same river twice.” Everything having to do with us, with the people in our life, and with the world around us, is constantly in flux. Permanence is an illusion (albeit a very useful and time-saving illusion). But sometimes the reality of impermanence breaks through into the here-and-now, we feel the pain and disorientation of loss, and we are faced with a choice: will we shy away from the rigorous work of grieving, or will we lay hold of the courage to grieve well?
We are creatures of habit, and we develop attachments to people, places and things, both tangible and intangible, and to our own internal workings. When the “regular” things of our life are disrupted, we lose our equilibrium (balance). The experience of change or loss can be disorienting and anxiety-provoking, and we attempt to make whatever adjustments are necessary to regain our balance. We experience tiny insults and mini-traumas many times each day, and most of the time we process them well, without giving it a second thought. But when our experience of change or loss threatens to overwhelm us, we need companions who can offer us the following qualities:
- Silent presence – When words cannot touch my suffering, the silent presence of my friends can. An old Jewish proverb says, “A word is worth one coin; silence is worth two.”
- Empathy – We need our friends to offer their sincere and nonjudgmental curiosity about our experience. No clichés, please (e.g., “I know just what you’re going through”)!
- Sympathy – It helps greatly if our friends find a vulnerable place within their own hearts that will allow them to identify with my feelings, even if they haven’t suffered the exact same loss.
- Respect – I want my friends to allow me the time, space and grace to grieve, rather than rushing me through the process or imposing their own timetable on me.
- Safety – I might say some crazy stuff in the midst of my grieving, and I need my friends to keep the confidences I share with them.
Human life is marked by change and loss, much of it normal, daily, repetitive, but some of it life-changing. When it’s the latter, we need to know how to grieve well, in order to regain our balance. Accompanying people on their journey of “good grieving” goes to the heart of what therapy is.