Developing Patience and Compassion after Loss
Forcing Surrender Is Not the Way to Heal
Posted October 7, 2013
I received this comment from a bereaved father and was so moved that I wanted to share it and my response to him with all of you on Psychology Today. I think this man's dilemma is a very common one that is based on a really hurtful misconception that we are supposed to just get over our grief. We try to make sense out of events that are un-figure-out-able and in the process the pain of loss is made even worse.
I lost my 23 year old daughter two years ago this month. I'm trying to completely surrender but I'm having a hard time with it. Can anybody give me some advice on how to completely surrender and accept what my mind finds unacceptable?
Please accept my deepest condolences for the loss of your daughter. Such losses absolutely boggle the mind, and I'm not sure that they can ever become acceptable. Eventually the fact that your daughter is gone will sink in, but there is something about the finality of death that I'm not sure ever makes sense to us.
That being said, I do want to comfort you with the idea that you can learn to live with the loss—but I'm not sure that trying to surrender is the most compassionate way to do so. At least for me, trying to make myself surrender to something I do not want is a lot like self-flagellation. The harder I try the more it hurts.
When my husband, Stephen, died I found it nearly impossible to accept that he was really gone, even though I had been with him at the moment he departed this earth. I found myself somewhere between thinking he should still be here and not being able to remember him at all. So I created a collage of photos of him—some from all stages of his adult life and some with the two of us together. I kept that collage in my dressing area for several years until I felt that I had internalized not only the images but the essence of the person(s) in the photo. Something about that process helped to satisfy my mind that Stephen was gone, I was still here, and that we now shared an essence that was more tangible to me than it had been when he was alive.
You see, even though we know we are part of our loved ones and they of us, I think we rely on their physical presence (or knowing that they are still alive and can visit us in person) to do the work of integration for us. Once they are gone, we have to do that work ourselves—and it takes time. This is a process that must unfold. It cannot be rushed. And I think one reason we don't heal from loss may be that we focus too much on trying to accept the absence of our loved ones rather than working to reinforce the connection to those qualities that were most near and dear to us.
This does not mean that we create shrines to our loved ones that keep us tied to the past so that we do not move on with our lives. There came a point when I realized that my collage was all about the past and that it had served its purpose. I had done the work. I now contained those images. So I put them in a scrapbook where they would be safe but out of sight. I no longer needed to look at them. I had a sense that Stephen had moved on and that I was now able to do the same. So the images are meant to assist our resolution, not to become the focus of revolving a past that can never be.
I think my book A Beautiful Grief: Reflections on Letting Go might help lead you through your grieving process. It is a collection of short chapters that deal with many aspects bereavement, presented as a way to help you develop patience and compassion toward yourself and your own journey with the aftermath of a tragic loss.
My advice to you is to be gentle with yourself. Don't worry about surrendering or forcing yourself to let go or trying to get back to some kind of normal that makes sense. The logic of life will emerge as you simply work with what is arising. Some things—like the death of a wonderful young woman—may never make sense. But it is possible to come to terms with life without her, especially if you allow yourself to hold in your heart all of the love and joy that she represented in your life. She may not be physically present to give them to you but you can convey them to the world on her behalf, even as you move forward in a life that has been affected by loss but not defined by it.
My heart goes out to you,
Copyright (c) 2013 Cheryl Eckl Communications, Inc.