I have spent much of the past 15 years of my life exploring the impact of change and loss on human life. I have read the insights of many and explored my own experience. Some of my discoveries are in a little book I published entitled, "Lose, Love, Live: The Spiritual Gifts of Loss and Change."
But, since I first wrote that book I have encountered other epiphanies that contribute to my understanding of this subject. I have long known that significant loss can make one feel totally out of control. The emotions that people feel fluctuate so quickly that one feels like one is on an emotional roller-coaster. Some people feel as if they are going crazy. These emotional shifts are so frequent and disconcerting that panic sets in.
To grieve loss well, it is important to feel the range of emotions and to be able to speak about them. Speaking about our emotions help us get some insights into our own actions and also gain some strength to carry those emotions. But, many have difficulty speaking about their feelings.
I recently read a book (Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides ) which contributed to my thinking about why it might be difficult to speak about those emotions. The narrator writes about the conflicting emotions of his grandmother when she thought her husband had died. She not only was overcome with a sudden sense of panic and sadness, but also, almost at the same moment, a sense of happiness that the secret of their life would not be revealed. He then says, "Emotions in my experience are not covered by single words." He then proceeds to search for complex words that would express the complexity of simultaneous, conflicting feelings.
He goes on to postulate that the belief that we can name emotions in single words "may be the best proof that the language is patriarchal in that it over simplifies feeling." The implication is that men are more inclined to shrink feelings to words that they can comprehend and control than are women.
Now, I am not inclined to generalize. But, grieving loss requires experiencing the feelings that we feel. Being able to name them helps. And whether your are a man or woman, the ability to simplify feelings is compromised when you suffer the trauma of significant loss. If you know that one who is grieving can’t simplify feelings, you can be patient with them (whether it is you who are grieving or someone about whom you care.) When the crisis of loss occurs, our disorientation is made worse because of the complexity of our feelings. It takes time to name those feelings.
When you are in a situation like this, allow yourself or another person to name their feelings over and over because they are so complex. Be patient with yourself or others. Create opportunities for those feelings to be spoken. When that occurs, we gain strength to navigate the pain that overwhelms us.