Conversations in Grief Blog: Facing It
When I call a newly bereaved person to ask how they are, they often respond, “I’m doing okay. I’m keeping busy.” Which means they are trying not to think too much about their loss and their grief. Many hospice bereavement counselors have commented on how, during the pandemic, we are finding that people are answering their phones and are more ready to talk, because they have time to talk.
The slow down, and even complete stop, has forced people to face their grief, not just loss of a loved one, but loss of many kinds.
I heard one person illustrate their experience of the sudden “shelter at home” like this, “We were running a race and then we were told to stop. We’re all panting, trying to catch our breath, and wondering…now what?” While we often use busyness to avoid dealing with our pain, people are now faced with time and their thoughts. This is as good a time as any to turn inward and figure out what is going on inside of us.
There is powerful imagery to describe the burdens we carry: a backpack of rocks. When I used this analogy with a bereaved client, she expressed that she felt physically hunched over by the rocks she was carrying.
Ignoring the backpack doesn’t make it go away. Saying that everyone carries a backpack (“grief is a part of life”) doesn’t make it go away. Running from the backpack doesn’t make it go away, because it is attached.
That heavy backpack contains our grief. When we carry it with us, the backpack is in charge. We feel the weight of it, slowing us down, stopping us, exhausting us. At the same time, we have become accustomed to the burden of the backpack. We may even believe that we have no choice but to carry the backpack of rocks.
There is another way.
Instead, we may choose to face our loss. Express our feelings without judging them. Say them out loud or write about them. Learn about how we are feeling. A client of mine began taking the “rocks” out of her backpack and gave them names. Rocks were labeled as I don’t have time for myself, It was my fault, I have to be strong, and I’m not worthy of love. The biggest rock summed up all of them: Lies I believe.
The transformation was that the backpack was no longer in charge. She was now in charge of those rocks and began to understand how the rocks ran her life and ultimately, she discovered that they were lies.
The backpack doesn’t always contain lies; it may just contain feelings that need to be expressed. It is in expressing our feelings that we begin to understand what we are feeling and discover healing.
It is the not knowing that burdens us. To be clear, knowing doesn’t change our situation. We will continue to mourn our loss. But mourning, expressing our grief, takes the feelings outside of us. A wise and courageous woman explained to me, “I had to get that (her feelings of self-blame) out. I didn’t know that was in me.” And there is the relief.
What is in your backpack?