Anger, guilt or shame can become lingering emotions felt when losses were troubled by difficult circumstances.
We want a quick fix – one we don’t have to work with. Understanding our emotions can help us find a different response.
In my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, there are two appendixes. In Appendix A, “Complex Grief Emotions,” I offer additional information on how to work through anger, guilt, shame and fear. Here is a quick overview of the first three.
When any longstanding conflicts are dumped onto our grief and loss, they add another layer of conflicting thoughts and emotions. Unresolved issues between you and the deceased can initiate feelings of shame or guilt. You may not have had a chance for reconciliation or resolution before death.
If losses were the result of random acts of violence, accidents, suicide or any unforeseen death, we may be left with a multitude of unanswerable questions and feelings of anger, confusion, guilt, anxiety, fear and remorse.
If you had been a victim of past abuse, abandonment, rejection or injustice; or lived with years of misunderstandings or conflict with this person who has now died, you will be left with a multitude of incongruous emotions. It might seem as if death has cheated you from finding resolution.
ceremonies or rites of passage symbolize leaving childhood to enter adulthood. Sometimes the rituals are physically demanding – others are simply a public recognition and celebration after instruction. Religions also have symbolic ceremonies to represent a major transition such as Jewish Bar Mitzvahs and Confirmation in the Lutheran and Roman Catholic Churches.
We leave something of ourselves behind in our endings as we move into the next stage of life. Even if we are enthusiastic about a new beginning, the ending can be bitter-sweet. We wait with anticipation for that first child, only to discover in becoming a parent, that we are not free to come and go as we please. Life has been altered forever. We may finally have reached that long-awaited retirement, only to experience restlessness and lack of purpose. It is necessary to redefine who we are at each stage of life.
We are defined by many things in life: our relationships, our roles, our handicaps.
What defines you? My youngest son was an artist. He started drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil. Even the simplest stick figures he drew had character and substance. His creativity seemed to flow out of him like water from a pitcher. He would draw for hours.
He loved to draw faces – faces that so expressed the characteristics of the individual that it never required anything more – you saw the whole person in the face. Within the expressions, there was passion, confidence, longing, sadness, robust strength, humor, wisdom, and understanding. Even today as I look at his drawings, I marvel at the depth of disclosure in his drawings that revealed so much of the human spirit and soul.
Every day, we observe the wonders of our world and the transformations that happen throughout the seasons.
Who hasn’t been renewed and refreshed by a cooling summer’s rain or been moved by the beauty and quiet serenity of an earth blanketed in mounds of downy snow or snowflakes that shimmer like diamonds in the winter sun?
Who hasn’t witnessed the peace of a countryside bathed in the light of a full moon?
And what person hasn’t marveled at stars so dazzling and vivid, it seems we could reach up and touch them? At such times, nature is silenced and time suspended.
And yet, the snow is only frozen water, and the sun, moon and stars are nothing more than hardened, desolate, uninhabitable rocks and dangerous gasses.
Misfortune and hardship can take us out of what was predictable and comforting and place us in unfamiliar territory.
Are you despondent and dreading the future, unable to see anything positive to look forward to?
Losses can make everything seem gloomy and hopeless and we resign ourselves to this fate moving forward.
But we can change that picture.
We can reframe what is happening in order to see something positive. Let me share a true story with you.
Years ago, I worked for a company that provided training to injured workers in chronic pain to help in their recovery and their re-entry to the workplace. They had been injured on the job, resulting in their inability to continue working in that same capacity.
One of the questions people ask when they attend support groups is, How can I enjoy life again when I have just lost the most important thing in life?
As we continue this series on recovering from losses, we will address not only healing and recovery, but rebuilding.
Recovering from a significant loss is never easy. If you lost your spouse, child, parent or best friend, that loss takes center stage and everything else is blocked from view. You may have resumed the daily tasks of life but find no pleasure in them.
Recovery includes the need to not only accept and let go but think about your future. But where do you begin?
You can’t begin to imagine the possibility of happiness in the future without your loved one. You might have accepted, but you can’t envision anything positive to look forward to.
From childhood on, we are creating beliefs about ourselves and our world based on the interpretations we make. We make assumptions and expectations that form a framework from which to appropriately respond to life. These frames of reference motivate and guide our thinking, our emotional responses, and our behavior.
How we frame our world creates meaning and helps us navigate the ups and downs of living.
Enlarging our frame of reference
If our frames of reference are small and limiting, our lives will be restrictive, negative and inflexible.
If we enlarge our frames of reference, we see a bigger picture and have a better understanding of occurrences that are causing pain and anxiety.
Memorials are over – people have gone home – life goes on.
Or has it?
Life might have resumed for others who have gone home to their families and familiar routines. But your life has been drastically changed. Life doesn’t just “go on” for you.
No matter what tragedy or loss you have encountered, it has drastically disrupted your life. Before you can establish a new normal, you need to first let go of what was.
To let go, you need to stop struggling. There is a natural resistance to accepting the ending of something valuable and important. When you continue to resist, however, you risk getting stuck in sorrow, sadness and depression; and maybe anger and resentment.
I asked a friend recently who attends a grief and loss support group, what one thing that people attending wanted – one thing they hoped for.
Her answer: to experience joy again.
For anyone who has lost a significant person in their life, that question is high on their list of doubts and uncertainties.
Will I ever be happy again? That person I lost had been an integral part of my life and my identity. When we were together, I felt whole and complete. It was where I found pleasure, joy and the most contentment and happiness.