“Very often at the heart of the difficulty, there is a light of a great jewel.”
– John O’Donohue
About five years ago, around the time I first came up with the idea for my current novel, my grandmother passed away.
My grandmother was a great light in my life, and when she passed away my heart was broken.
It took a lot of time working through the tears to get to the point where I am at now, where her memory mostly gives me joy and fills my heart with love.
Today, I feel her with me often. Literally, because I have her DNA in my blood, and in other ways, too. She taught me so much when she was still alive. So much of her behavior and her way of thinking was stamped on me while she was still here.
She loved to laugh and tell stories. She had strict morals and values and was uncompromising in them. She was a stickler for detail and loved arts and crafts. She was incredibly compassionate: when she was much younger, she took in several orphans and raised them as her own. She was also a healer. Whenever I got really sick, my mother would send me to my grandmother. My grandmother would cook me some delicious Mexican food and would provide home remedies for my sickness that would make me feel so much better. Even just being in my grandmother’s presence was very healing.
Today, as I work on my novel, I carry my grandmother’s joy with me. I carry her love of laughter. I carry her compassion with me. I carry her love of storytelling. I carry her unwavering belief in the importance of morals and values. I carry her strong belief in the goodness of the human heart. I carry her belief in the importance of giving to others who are in need. I also carry her impeccable attention to detail.
In the past, I have been told that my words have a healing element to them, and I can only thank my grandmother for this: if my words are healing, it is because I carry my grandmother’s healing presence with me at all times.
You see, even though my grandmother has passed, her presence is still very much felt.
Through me, her legacy lives on.
How to Grieve
I am not a professional therapist, and, as always, I urge you to seek professional help if you are grieving a deep loss. In my experience, a good therapist is best equipped to get you through a period of mourning.
With that said, I can add to your work with your therapist by sharing with you what has worked well for me.
(Please note: I don’t know the traditional “official” psychological terms for the different stages of grief. I am only sharing with you my personal experience in the hopes that it may illuminate your own journey.)
Shock and Disbelief
In my personal experience, you usually go through a moment of shock at the first stage of grief. Even though the person, position, or thing you have lost was something you anticipated would be lost, it is still very shocking when it is finally gone. It feels strange. It’s like having a photograph that always featured a person you cared about and then, suddenly, you wake up one morning to find that this photograph no longer features that person anymore: it is empty.
In order to get over this shock, it is good to express these feelings with others and begin to talk about what you miss most about the individual (or thing) that is now gone from your life.
Sadness and Tears
Most likely, as soon as you start talking about the individual you have lost, you will start to feel deep sadness.
For me, this was the most challenging part of the grieving process. I am a man, and as men we are not taught to grieve. We are taught to bottle up our emotions, including our tears. Conditioned this way, a man finds it hard to learn how to cry gain. Even if they want to cry, they often don’t know “how to cry.”
So, personally, I had to re-condition myself and learn how to cry again.
And what I learned is that you cannot force tears. The best thing you can do is to talk about the individual you have lost, and describe what it feels like to have lost them. (By the way: this is often the work you do with a professional therapist.) After doing this enough times, the tears begin to emerge from some pit at the bottom of your stomach. When you feel this happen, do not resist this surge of tears, but also do not try to force these tears out. You will find that the surge of tears will emerge on its own time, if you wait long enough.
Once the tears rush out, try not to cling to this sadness. Just be a witness to it. A great way to observe your sadness is simply to label it: “this is sadness.” Or: “this is pain.” After a while, there will be an end to the tears and you will feel much better and relieved afterward.
Don’t be afraid of sadness or tears. Crying will not “guarantee” that you remain in a permanent state of grief for the rest of your life. Crying is the way in which your body processes the loss. Crying is not sadness in itself, it is the way your body processes the sadness. So, if you allow yourself to cry, you will allow the sadness to pass through you.
This is how you begin to heal.
Numbness and Detachment
If the loss is very deep, you may become tired of crying at certain intervals. Thus, your periods of crying will be interspersed with periods of numbness and detachment. Exhausted from crying, you will need a break, and so, you will shut off your emotions and you will feel “numb” for a while. These periods are not necessarily bad. They are only bad if you prolong them and do not return to periods of expressing your sadness in a healthy manner.
Your Season of Mourning
Mourning is just a stage of life. We all must go through this stage. All of us will lose something or someone eventually.
But what will give you hope is knowing that this season of mourning is only temporary. It ends and gives birth to something else. Winter must always give way to Spring.
If you embrace and accept this season of your life (even if you hate it) and focus your mind on healing, then you will master this stage of life and you will be ready to welcome a new stage of life.
The “winter season of life” is also a moment to surround yourself with others. Reach out for support from family, friends, spiritual guides, counselors, etc. The warmth of others will keep you from freezing to death in this winter of your life.
Healing Through Legacy
The final turn of the grieving process is when you discover that your loss has left a wonderful, unexpected legacy for you.
As John O’ Donohue said, at the heart of every difficulty “there is the light of a great jewel.”
The last stage of the grieving process is when you uncover that jewel.
After you have properly mourned your loss, you will encounter a “surprise plot twist” at the end of the grieving process: you will discover that the whole process has changed you for the better. You will begin to experience a “Springtime” in your life, in which a new you emerges from the old you. Suddenly, life reveals to you that it isn’t just about overcoming hardship, it’s also about opening yourself up to new and wonderful possibilities.
Because your season of mourning has taught you how to feel, you suffer less. You are more equipped to deal with the hardships of life. You are stronger, wiser, and more capable. Because you have felt deeply during your season of mourning, you are now able to better understand other people. You are more empathic. Your heart is more open. You are more compassionate towards others.
Your ability to help others in their hour of need has now increased.
You are giddy with excitement at realizing that the whole experience served its purpose: it was a spiritual “training program.” A training program that was transforming you into a powerful spiritual warrior.
Finally, you will discover that the person or thing you have lost has a left a legacy within you that you now carry with you wherever you go. This legacy, far from dragging you down, now enhances everything you do and influences everyone you touch.
When you recognize that you carry the legacy of the loved one you have lost, you cannot help but feel joy and love in your heart. For it is then that you realize that you have never really lost that person. You have always had them with you, and you will always have them with you.
Today’s Courage Exercise
If you are currently grieving a loss, see if you can’t find the legacy of the person or thing you are grieving. It may be hard for you to imagine that so much pain could leave you a positive legacy at this point, but if you can, try to imagine this legacy. Imagining the legacy of your current grief may give you the courage to keep going until you uncover the “jewel” at the heart of the difficulty.
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