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The Morning After Mourning
By Chuck Gallozzi
We may escape the ravages of killer earthquakes and hurricanes, but we cannot escape from the need for mourning because one day we will lose a loved one. The time to think about mourning is now, before the need arises, for when that day comes, we'll be too distraught to think clearly.
The purpose of mourning is to get us through the rough spots, get us to the point where we can once again get on with life. Its purpose is, so to speak, to get us to the morning after mourning, where life is once more worth living.
We are attached to loved ones by powerful bonds. When we experience a loss, it is like having a part of us violently torn from our flesh, leaving a gaping hole. We will feel like a part of us is missing. Just as severe physical injury is traumatic and needs time to heal, the loss of a loved one creates grievous mental anguish that takes time to recover from.
To better understand its purpose and need, let's consider the four functions of mourning, each of which we must pass through before we can arrive at the morning after mourning.
1. Admitting the Loss is Real
The loss of a loved one is so devastating that at first we often refuse to accept it. That is, despite the evidence to the contrary, we deny that our loved one is dead and we are now permanently separated from them. Unless we accept these facts, we'll be unable to move on and will remain stuck in this part of the grieving process.
Of course, after the body of the deceased is buried or cremated, it is difficult for a rational person to deny the death of their loved one. However, the mind compensates for this by engaging in behavior that allows one to continue living in denial. For example, a mother who has lost a child may find it impossible to use her child's room for another purpose. She may insist on preserving the room as it was on the day of her child's death.
When asked about her behavior, the mother may say, "I'm preserving the room out of respect for my son." But how does the room help her son? Obviously, it cannot. But on a deeper psychological level, it allows the mother to believe that should her son return, his room would be ready for him. This behavior is not serious if it continues for just a few months. However, if it drags on for six months or longer, it prevents the grieving parent from moving on. The point is, then, the sooner we accept the loss as permanent and real, the sooner we will be able to move through the other stages of grief.
Another form of denial is to deny the significance of the death. A teenage boy who has lost his father, for instance, may say, "Oh well, I never got along with him anyway." By denying his love for his father, he hopes to suppress the pain of loss. This example also brings us to the second role of mourning, which is to experience the pain of grief.
2. Experiencing the Pain of Grief
To get beyond the pain of grief, we must first be willing to experience it and work through it. It is only by willingly acknowledging, accepting, and bearing the pain of loss that we will eventually be healed.
Imagine the pain facing high-profile attorney and television legal analyst, Daniel Horowitz. His wife of eleven years, Pamela Vitale, was brutally murdered close to the construction site of their new dream house. The new, almost complete, house has been under construction for two years and was completely designed by Daniel Horowitz's wife Pamela. In an interview with TV Personality Nancy Grace, Daniel Horowitz said now that his wife was dead, he would never, never move into the house.
Such a response is natural, as every one of the 6,000 square feet of the house would remind him of the painful loss of his wife. Yet, it is only by accepting and experiencing the pain that we will be able to move through it and on to the remaining stages of grief. In the case of Daniel Horowitz, his comments were made only days after his wife's murder, so they are understandable. I'm sure that in a reasonable amount of time he will accept the pain and move on.
When we are experiencing great loss, we need to avoid, as much as possible, the temptation to put painful thoughts out of our mind. If we suppress our emotions for long, we may numb ourselves to all feelings, lose our zest for life, and perhaps even fall into depression. After we learn to live with the pain, we will be able to move on to the next phase.
3. Adjusting to Life Without the Deceased
When a loved one dies, it is like someone pulled the rug right from under us. All the encouragement, support, and love we took for granted is taken away from us. A spouse provides lots more than love, support, and encouragement. They are also someone to confide in, seek advice from, go out with, share dreams with, and grow old with.
Additionally, it may have been the deceased spouse who fixed the house or car, did the laundry and shopped for food, looked after the household finances, raised the children, wrote letters and sent out birthday cards to relatives, planned the vacations and packed the bags, and any number of other chores.
As a result, added to the pain of grief is the confusion and discomfort of trying to tackle all the responsibilities that were formerly handled by one's deceased partner. At this point, some widows and widowers feel overwhelmed and succumb to feelings of helplessness. It is important that we do not allow ourselves to get stuck at this point.
Instead of getting stuck, we can choose to reach deep, down into our inner resources and learn how to carry out all the tasks that were formerly done by our partner. When doing so, we will grow that much stronger. By considering now the problems we are likely to face in the future, we can take action to lessen their blow. For example, the more partners share in all responsibilities today, the less difficult it will be to adapt to life without one's spouse.
4. Letting Go of the Past and Holding on to the Future
After accepting our deceased loved one will not return, experiencing the pain of their loss, and adjusting to life without them, it is time to withdraw from the past, engage in the present, and stake out a new life for the future.
Some survivors never get this far. It may be because they found the pain of loss so great they never want to experience it again. But to refuse to enter a new relationship because of the pain it could bring is also to deny oneself of the pleasure, happiness, and joy it could bring. Besides, by refusing to consider another partner, you also deny your potential future partner the happiness of living with you. In other words, there's not only you to think about but also others to think about. You can help end the loneliness and pain that another human being is feeling. It isn't essential that one remarries, but we haven't fully recovered from grief unless we are at least willing to consider this possibility.
The purpose of this brief article is to help you prepare for the inevitable. However, when that day arrives, you will have forgotten all this, or be too overcome by grief to think clearly. So, I suggest that you remember just one thing: when you lose a loved one, JOIN A BEREAVEMENT GROUP. The leader of the group, and its members, will guide you through the entire grieving process, which will take about a year. Meanwhile, cherish your present relationship and treat it with all the care it deserves.