Lamentation Can Be a Good Thing
The process of grieving is healthy and leads to personal growth.
Posted September 29, 2016
It is not fashionable for people to feel and show our emotions. How often do we see folk on television apologize when they start to cry, even though they have suffered a great loss and this is the most natural reaction? Some people even then apologize for apologizing; but there is nothing to be ashamed of concerning sorrow, misery, grief or lamentation. Bad things happen, and we have a wonderful emotional mechanism for dealing with psychological trauma and loss… But it only works when we feel the painful feelings and grow through them, not when we try to suppress them.
Lamentation, then, is about release, about letting the painful emotions flow: fear, doubt, bewilderment, anger, shame and guilt, perhaps, as well as sadness. It can be silent, but the release of energy is often accompanied by noises – the sounds of crying, shouting, sobbing, keening, sighing, whimpering – and the fall of tears, even the streaming of mucus. We have come to think of such powerful expressions of grief as ugly, and therefore seek to avoid them; to avoid even seeing them, much less grieving like this ourselves; but this is in ignorance of the resulting serenity of final acceptance when we eventually assimilate our losses and are ready again to engage with life anew and move forward. Without lamentation, without the emotional healing process advancing towards resolution, this cannot happen; in which case, misery can only persist.
A friend recently went to an African country, to a village where someone had died. He was amazed to see a full outpouring of grief lasting two or three days, affecting not only the dead person’s family but all the villagers. At first he was horrified, but then, when everything returned to normal a couple of days after the funeral, and everyone seemed to be happy again, he realized that a short intense period of mourning might be better than a prolonged low-key one that fails to reach closure.
Lamentation, then, is essential to psychological health, and is often the main pathway to personal growth, to greater equanimity, compassion and wisdom. Although painful, it is altogether natural, and a good thing.
People of old knew this. There is a five-chapter ‘Book of Lamentations’ in the Old Testament of the Bible. Here is an extract from Chapter Five, which puts me in mind of modern-day refugees: “Remember… what has befallen us; look, see our disgrace! Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to aliens. We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows. We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought. With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven; we are weary, we are given no rest.”
What are the rest of us to do, faced every day with television pictures of such unhappy displaced people, or those whose homes have been utterly destroyed by flood or earthquake? We can send money for humanitarian aid, but that only partly addresses the pain we feel through genuine sympathy with the suffering, and the knowledge that we could easily be similarly bereft at the stroke of a natural or man-made disaster.
Most of us have learned (have been taught) to suppress our unpleasant feelings, particularly sorrow, and may have to unlearn this. We may not be able to help refugees directly, but we can feel genuine sadness at their plight. We can lament and regret it; and when each episode is resolved and our minds are clear again, we may begin to see that others have been affected as we have and are also lamenting the plight of yet others. Sharing in pain and suffering, we can join together, comforting one-another, discussing options, planning for an uncertain future. This leads to a healthy community, able to share joy as well as sorrow, better-prepared for the many vicissitudes, the twists and turns, of real life.
Copyright Larry Culliford
Listen to Larry’s Keynote Address to the British Psychological Society’s Transpersonal Section via You Tube (1 hr 12 min).
See Larry interviewing JC Mac about ‘spiritual emergence’ on You Tube (5 min).