Muse: to reflect, contemplate, to
meditate in silence on some subject.
“Start close in
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first thing
the step you don’t want to take.
The first step toward our grief is the step we most don’t want to take. I think most of us would rather skip that first step and just move past our grief entirely. The first step is always the hardest and scariest as it is something we never wanted to do and we aren’t sure if we will survive the overwhelming pain. That is the wisdom of taking just one step, one breath, one moment in our grief so we can come to understand that in each movement toward our pain that we are still here and we are learning to live in this world that we never thought we could. Healing begins in that first step, no matter how small.
“Start right now take a small step you can call your own.”
Making Sense vs Making Meaning
Not only are we taught that the world around us makes sense but we are also taught how it makes sense. Over time we learn that the sky is blue and the grass is green, that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, that spring follows winter, and 2 + 2 = 4. Yes, we are taught that our world makes sense … until.
Loss topples our world so we find ourselves scrambling to make sense of what has happened. If we can somehow find some semblance of order, we tend to feel a little more in control and life seems somewhat less scary and unpredictable.
When we try to make sense of things we use our physical senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch. As we use our physical senses, we gather information that is coming from outside of ourselves to make sense of what is happening within us as we experience loss. We use this external information to try and fit the facts together in a somewhat linear fashion. Making sense of things has more to do with figuring out the details in our head in an effort to fix our loss instead of learning from our loss.
When we attempt to make sense of our loss we look for reasons as to why this has happened. Many of us have heard the cliché that “everything happens for a reason” and we keep looking for the reason as if it will help lessen our pain if we find it. I have come to understand that not everything happens for a reason. Instead, I believe that everything happens, life happens, period. Looking for reasons usually leads to trying to find the answer to the question of why. Trying to figure out the answer to the question of why plays like a perpetual loop that constantly runs through our minds. It keeps us continually seeking but never finding and it keeps us from feeling the pain of our loss.
“Listening with my heart I will make meaning” (Steindl-Rast 2016).
Making meaning of our loss can seem like an impossible task. We may resist finding any meaning because we feel like there isn’t any meaning to be found. Making meaning comes in time.
In order to make meaning from our loss, we have to let ourselves marinate in our questions instead of searching for quick answers. To let our questions marinate within us we must slow down and turn inward as we pause and reflect and ultimately learn to trust in the mystery of life. The root meaning of the word “mystery” is to shut one’s eyes and ears. It is in our darkness that we begin to pay attention to what our heart has to say as we learn to hear, see, and feel more deeply. As we listen to what is happening inside of us we learn that our feelings have meaning that can teach us how to make meaning of our loss.
The questions about our loss, our life, that arise from this heart space are more in-depth and more emotional than questions that come from our heads. Heart questions have more to do with how we will remember our loved ones and how we will continue to have a relationship with them even though they are gone, “Death ends a life, not a relationship” (Schwartz 1997), and how this loss changes us.
Our meaning-making questions may focus on what our loved ones taught us about love and life and how we can let those lessons live on through us. We also look at how this loss has reshaped who we are and how we can integrate the before version of us with the after version of us so we can live with our hearts more open, express and experience more love, be more understanding and tolerant, and become more compassionate.
We also make meaning by remembering. We remember our loved ones more deeply. We remember who they were and how they lived their life. In many ways we let them live on through us. Our love for them never subsides and we know that their love for us lives on in our hearts. We know that the human side of us will always miss our loved ones but over time we can also discover that our relationships don’t exist in our bodies—they exist in our hearts, in our minds, and in our souls (Welshons 2003).
We also learn that making meaning from our loss is an ongoing process because grief never really ends it just transforms over time. By listening to our hearts we all learn what matters to us, what brings us comfort, and how we can make our own meaning from our loss.
“When we find meaning we know it because our heart finds rest”
~ Steindl-Rast 2016
The Written Word
There are many ways to express our grief and putting our thoughts, feelings, and ideas on paper can be a very healing process. The suggested prompts here can be done one time or multiple times. I’ve learned it helps to set a timer for 10-15 minutes and keep your pen moving for the entire time. I encourage using pen and paper rather than a keyboard as there is a hand/heart connection when writing longhand. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar, just write. When the timer goes off you stop writing even if you are in mid-sentence. Don’t reread your work at this time. Just set it aside for a couple of weeks and then go back and see what your words may have to say to you.
(If you choose to use a keyboard the same instructions apply).
Try this writing prompt:
Where do I feel my grief in my body or in my heart and how can this
feeling develop into an inner connection with my loved one?
I will list some books, articles, poems, movies, or other resources that I as well as others have found helpful on this grief journey. I hope these resources may deepen your understanding of grief, maybe bring you some sense of comfort, and help you to feel less alone in your grief.