The Journey of Grief
My entry today is related to the reactions witnessed throughout the United States presently and over the past few days with regard to the protests centered around George Floyd’s physical life ending at the hands of police. It is as though a tipping point was reached and all of a sudden whatever was holding and keeping the eventual reactions under control exploded. All of the emotional pain, fear and anger buried within countless numbers men and women erupted like a volcano spewing lava like destruction that often turned violent leaving devastation in its wake.
Anytime anyone loses anything of value, grief is the reaction. Elizabeth Kubler Ross was a psychiatrist working with mentally challenged patients. As she observed the reactions of her patients receiving bad news, with relationship to loss, she began to recognize from her patients similar behaviors. The more she observed these similarities the more she began to understand an emerging pattern surfacing she called the process of grief. She wrote about her finding in her famous book On Death and Dying.
What she observed once someone received the bad new of loss started out with what she termed “denial.” Denial may be described as a numbing sensation that tends to set in to aid in coping with the trauma caused by the loss. It can be understood as the electrical service panel in your home or apartment. Once an electrical circuit is overloaded, the breaker in the electrical panel trips to keep the circuit from catching the house on fire. In other words, denial helps the individual cope with the trauma associated with the loss.
Secondly, once the denial begins to wear away and the numbing sensation decreases, then anger begins to set in. What was once unbelief that the loss had occurred was replaced by the fact that the loss actually happened and now anger fills what the denial had veiled over. This anger, depending on how severe the loss, heats up within a person’s psyche causing such distress. When this anger reaches the boiling point then the next stage in the grief process described by Ross is termed “bargaining.”
Simply put, bargaining is looking for someone to blame for the loss. If someone very close to you is killed in an automobile accident and the person causing the accident was a drunk driver, more than likely your anger would soon turn to blaming the driver for their negligence in driving while intoxicated. It can get more complicated especially when it is not certain who was at fault for the loss. One might say, “If only the ambulance driver had gotten my mother to the hospital in time she would still be alive. These and other statements are expressed to try and cope with losses. Often when we can’t find anyone to blame our anger and blaming gets put on God.
These first three emotions, denial, anger and bargaining tend to be relived over and over as we try to make sense of the loss we are experiencing. The result of not being able to come to any solution brings about the next stage in the grief process namely, “depression.” Depression is that sinking feeling within us when we are no longer in control. There is a hopelessness that accompanies our inner being. We may try to hide it but most of the time it is very present. We may try to self-medicate this pain by over eating or taking drugs to help us cope. Usually these attempts to deal with the loss only complicate the process of reaching the last stage of Ross’ grief process called “acceptance.”
It has been said that grief work is the hardest work we will ever do in our lifetime. Grief work has to be intentional. It is a good idea to take this grief journey with a trusted friend. In order for this journey to be successful in reaching acceptance one can only get passed grief by going through it. In other words, you can’t go over it or under it or around it, you must go through it to get past it.
As I thought about the grief journey our country’s population seems to be going through today, it occurred to me that we have been in denial as Caucasians of the pain people of color have had to endure. It appears the denial of these people of color asking themselves "is this really happening to us?" has now worn away and the collective anger has erupted. There are so many voices shouting in an attempt to get the attention of those seemingly in control that they could no longer breathe. The bargaining piece to this national grief process seems to be coming from several different places. Everyone is pointing fingers. If the process is accurate, national depression is not far away.
To reiterate, grief work is the hardest work we will ever do in our lifetime. Presently we are all asking “why and when questions.” Why is this happening? Why did we not see this coming? When will all of this go away? The why and when questions are asked in the midst of the grieving process. One of the evidences that we as a nation will approach the last stage of the grieving process, namely “acceptance” is when we start asking the “how” questions. In other words, how can we take what we are learning and apply it in the care of each other? How can we make room for all to be included? How can we become more loving toward one another?
The scriptures indicate that man looks at the outward appearance but God looks on the heart. I believe we have the ability to look on the heart as well because we come from God. We are the “God-kind.” If that is so, then we come from Love. It is my hope and prayer that acceptance, once it is reached, will be surrounded and upheld in and by Love with the absolute absence of condemnation. We all are Loved and when we make that discovery and begin to show love to oneanother, the world will never be the same again!