There are critical events in life that forever separate time into periods of before and after. The loss of a loved one is such a defining moment. There is no preparation for bereavement. From numbness to despair, grief spans a variety of states and emotions. Each of us has to deal with it on our own terms, in our own way.
Grief is expressed in many works of cemetery art. Statues with mournful looks, hands touching faces, arms around one another, and eyes staring toward the ground remind us we are not alone in attempting to cope with our loss.
Five Stages of Grief
There has been a wealth of literature written about grief. The APA, the leading scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States, describes it as:
“The anguish experienced after significant loss, usually the death of a beloved person. Grief often includes physiological distress, separation anxiety, confusion, yearning, obsessive dwelling on the past, and apprehension about the future. Intense grief can become life-threatening. Grief may also take the form of regret for something lost, remorse for something done, or sorrow for a mishap to oneself.”
Although factual, this definition doesn’t mirror the reality of grief.
Grief is always an individual process. In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a psychiatrist specializing in the study of loss, developed five stages of grief terminal ill patients go through: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Although family members and friends seem to undergo a similar process after the loss of a loved one, few deal with grief in the same manner. It is unpredictable, and there are no rules.
The Kingdom Of Childhood
When my father died in 2015, it was neither sudden nor unexpected. Although I knew the time was approaching, it was still a shock. The world felt like a different place once he was no longer a part of it. “Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies,” as the lyrical American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay expressed it so profoundly in her 1937 poem. Whatever remnants of my childhood remained, came to an end in this moment.
“We often tend to ignore how much of a child is still in all of us.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying
Did I experience denial and disbelief? No. I always accepted death as a part of life. But this didn’t spare me from revolting against its finality. Anger? Yes. I was angry about the brevity of life, the cruel ravages of cancer, and a sense of helplessness — this, despite my belief that life should be measured by quality vs. quantity. Regrets? Plenty — about wasted time, things left unsaid, and wondering what I could have done differently while he was alive. But there are no shortcuts to peace of mind; I had to work through these in my own way, in my own time.
“Absence is a house so vast that inside you will pass through its walls and hang pictures on the air.”
— Pablo Neruda, Sonnet XCIV
Grief Needs Patience
The acute pain accompanying loss feels all-encompassing. It is visible in our faces and bodies, behaviour, and moods. The veil of pain keeps us apart from the rest of the world. We cannot avoid suffering. As Ross explains, attempts to deny, postpone, or suppress it only prolong the process, and can, in some cases, make it much worse. The road to acceptance is long and unpredictable. It often includes the examination of our own mortality as well.
Grief Takes Time
As I coped with my own grief, I gained an appreciation for the efforts of the many sculptors who managed to capture the feelings of sadness, loneliness and separation. Their works create a timeless reminder that cemeteries are places where love reigns.
Although you may never truly overcome your sense of grief, you can get through it. Time and patience are powerful allies in surviving grief and helping you to find joy again, despite the void created by loss. Some bonds are inseparable. And meeting again is only a question of time.
“Sorrow with his pick mines the heart. But he is a cunning workman. He deepens the channels whereby happiness may enter, and hollows out new chambers for joy to abide in, when he is gone.”
― Mary Cholmondeley, Diana Tempest
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