Rea L. Ginsberg, LCSW-C, ACSW, BCD
“AAAAwwww”…Arlo the Dinosaur’s howl of a hurting heart.  Spot loved and got his proper loving ‘aaawww’ answer. It cuts through all the layers to the essence of mind, the intrinsic nature of awareness. It speaks a togetherness that nothing may ever tear asunder – broken.
Grief, the excruciating presence of an absence.  Aldous Huxley
Other losses spring forth without calling, causing more insult to injury. A living stranger’s face abruptly changes its appearance, becoming the image of a loved one long dead. It feels surreal, primary to the unconscious, otherworldly. The heart was not made to be broken.
Elements of consciousness and thought. Memory of many years past is now mysteriously present, alive with strong feeling. Fleeting likeness wrapped in warmth and intimate familiarity, searching by touch. Then the vision vanishes but old sensations remain.
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.  Maya Angelou
Suddenly we wonder what would happen if we got stuck in this alternate universe. A flash of recognition on insanity follows. Maybe this is how the people in mental institutions feel. Once incarcerated, how do they free themselves, step out across to the world again?
Shut down quickly, then. Denial rules. Distraction requires focus. Save us. The center must hold. Reprise: the center will hold. Somewhere, we know this truth below all the current crazy swirl of evidence to the contrary.
Denial helps us to face our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle.  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Words do not come fast. First is the silence of sadness, such a small word for blinding devastation. Sing sorrow. Protect the bloodied core Self. Seek solace tightly inward, the only honest place for relief. Self-preservation: the innate desire to stay alive, to shield and safeguard from harm, damage, or destruction. Defend from disorder our one and only life.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  Hillel the Elder
Hurt, if too soon.
Hide, to cover up.
Heal, over time.
We speak what we feel, not always what is actually, factually there.
Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.  Arthur Schopenhauer
What is there, what we feel, can be tamed. Others help. They may act as a mirror, reflecting the status of our pain. They may steady the pain, preventing it from sliding deeper. They may offer tangible proof that all is not lost, and someday life will feel good again – different, surely, but still good. They may listen attentively, with sensitivity and empathy, and thus assist in beginning our transformation to new levels of intuitive understanding and insight. That fiercely guarded core Self starts to open, just a little bit.
The moral life, the life that transforms lives, begins in the ear, in the act of listening.  Jonathan Sacks
Our perspective evolves as we move through the raging grief cycle. At first, everything that was normal disappears into agony: sleeping, eating, daily routines, thinking, guilt/fear/anger, physical energy and more. However, life will exist after loss. Even post-traumatic growth is a yet-unrecognized, unacknowledged possibility. Loss does not mean growth is dead. The depth of our perception is influenced by emotion. Our views of death affect the way we live. Feelings change. Rebuilding life is a struggle. It is workable – this to be discovered.
Post-traumatic growth: Thriving, more than just resilience; trauma and transformation; growing in the aftermath of suffering; turning a tragedy into a tribute; positive change following adversity; bouncing forward. 
Healing is not a straight line. At the outset, a step forward is followed by a step or two backward. It is a process, a jagged uneven upward slope, a series of steps in understanding and coming to terms with loss. To each, his own unique, singular wellness timelines. No should-get-over-it dictum applies. Even in laughter, reminders of sorrow lurk. To love at all is to be vulnerable. 
Mourning has a life of its own. In a sense, it never ends because the loss is irreparable; there is no such thing as "closure" for those who grieve. Transformation is the promise. The lost live on, continued in the minds of the survivors, available for conversation, advice and comfort. It is like a Haunting: poignant and persistent but also paradoxically quieting, calming, reassuring. Death is the end of a life; it is not the end of a relationship. 
It takes a village to raise a child  …or to usher a mourner back into the land of the living. Others matter. They make a difference. Eventually we must talk about the It, the Hurt. Talk about it. We are not alone. Lengthy solitary confinement in the prison of the Self is unacceptable, intolerable. Hell is the absence of others. 
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.  William Shakespeare
We need the village, the community of others, in order to feel truly and genuinely safe and to grow again. A secure and reliable psychosocial environment is key to success. Reach for it, directly through the heavy haze of hurt. Find others; talk. Choose those with compassion, people who know it and show it. Hunt for the ones who can honestly say, “When you can’t look on the bright side, I will sit with you in the dark.” 
This is “psychotherapy” at its very oldest and surpassing best: the power and the grace of friendship. Hold that hand of kindness always. Attend to the commitments that do not falter. Accept the others but respectfully allow them to fade if they must. Extend undying gratitude for presence, vitality, life force. Remember that the giver also gains from giving – healing is a gift to the giver as well.
We meet our transforming Self. Look within, exercise introspection, self-awareness; make it a lifelong habit of essential self-care. It takes moral courage and time undefined by social norms. Observe the inherent human dignity that underlies strength and growth.
So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen…. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.
~~ Rainer Maria Rilke,
Letters to a Young Poet
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1. Refers to the two main characters in “The Good Dinosaur,” computer-animated feature adventure film produced by Pixar and released by Disney, 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Good_Dinosaur
2. Aldous Huxley, Island, a novel, 1962
3. Maya Angelou, Worth Repeating
4. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross & David Kessler, On Grief and Grieving,
5. Hillel the Elder
6. Arthur Schopenhauer, Studies in Pessimism: the Essays
7. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World
8. Richard Tedeschi & Lawrence Calhoun (PTG: Post-traumatic growth)
9. C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves
10. Morrie Schwartz via Mitch Albom: Tuesdays with Morrie
11. African proverb, attributed to the Igbo and Yoruba people of Nigeria
12. Rabbi Sacks, op.cit.
13. William Shakespeare, “Macbeth”
http://shakespeare.mit.edu/macbeth/full.html (entire play)
14. attributed to Lewis Carroll
Top: Spot – “The Good Dinosaur,” Pixar/Disney, www.tumblr.com
Below: Growth circles, www.facebook.com
Tags: #grief #growth #Transformation