Two years since I lost my wife; Hope Edelman on “The AfterGrief”; Carrying our loved ones forward; Getting back more than what you lost.
In SAVVY, the history of grief shaped our thinking that grief should be a process to be completed and from which we move on. Hope Edelman challenges those concepts of grief and speaks of understanding grieving as a lifelong process.
In SKILLS, a couple of tips on how to move forward with grief as a lifelong process.
In SOUL, I share about work, love and play and how you really can get back MORE than what you lost.
It is two years since the sudden death of my wife. So it is a fitting time to revisit the topic of grief, especially when over 500,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, leaving 10 times as many grieving.
In the December 22, 2020 edition of the news program Here & Now there was a ten minute segment from Minute 27:44 – 37:30 on Understand Grieving As A Lifelong Process with the Hope Edelman, the author of “The AfterGrief”.
I have summarized highlights of that radio segment.
Here is the history behind the idea that grief ends and is a process that should be completed
- Freud contributed to the idea that grief ends in a 1917 paper “Mourning and Melancholia”.
- He said grief comes to a successful completion and you have to detach from the one you lost.
- He later realized after the deaths of his daughter at age 36 and then his grandson, that the acute state of grief will pass. But one never gets fully over the loss as it morphs and changes and perpetuates the love for the one we lost.
- Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, “On Death and Dying”, explored the experience of dying through interviews with terminally ill patients. She described Five Stages of Dying: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance (DABDA)
- “Kübler-Ross originally saw these stages as reflecting how people cope with illness and dying,” observed grief researcher Kenneth J. Doka, “not as reflections of how people grieve.”
- Kübler-Ross later noted that the stages are not a linear and a predictable progression and that she regretted writing them in a way that was misunderstood.
- She never intended for grief to be a series of siloed emotions. (Stage Theory)
There are just two stages of grief
Hope Edelman sees two stages of grief: “the one where you feel really bad” and the “one where you start feeling better”, which extends for the rest of your life.
Grief isn’t something we get over but rather where we find new and different ways to carry our loved one forward with us. This is what she wrote about as “The AfterGrief”.
Types of grief:
1. “Grief spike” (sneak attacks) – a song comes on the radio that reminds you of loved one and you miss them like at first. It is a sudden gut punch, which Edelman calls:
- “Old grief” is a response in the present to a loss in the past that may last a few minutes or hours.
2. “New old grief” is when we experience an old loss in a new way. It may be a one time event e.g., a wedding; becoming a new parent; a graduation – we long for the lost loved ones advice or comfort.
- Another one is when you pass the age of your lost parent e.g., mother died at 42 and now you are 42.
Unexpressed grief shows up as hypertension, anger, physical and mental symptoms, depression etc.
Try “free-writing” to express anything you have been holding in but want to let out
- Write down whatever is on your mind – free writing – set a time like 5 minutes and write something you’ve been holding in and want to let out; share it with a compassionate other who won’t say “aren’t you over it yet?!”.
Grief is not completed. Rather, find new ways to carry our loved ones forward with us
The next wave after Stage Theory (5 stages of DABDA) was the Relational Theory of Grief:
- Trying to complete stages of grief and let go of your attachment to a loved one who has died was causing more pain than comfort.
- What we naturally yearn to do is find new ways to stay connected to our loved ones as we move forward in the physical world. e.g., telling stories about them; continuing a tradition they participated in, even if you do this in an abbreviated form e.g., if there was a special restaurant you always enjoyed together once a month, you could get dessert there to remember them.
- My daughter and granddaughters stayed connected by opening a photo frame of their mother/grandmother each morning and say “Good morning, MeeMee” (their version of “grandma”); or when my daughter glides into an easy parking space, she jokes, “thanks Mum”.
- I go to a special part of the beach where we spread some of her ashes and meditate briefly and say “Hi, Marcia”; or stand at my tie rack and say “Help me out here with choosing a tie that matches”.
On the morning of the two-year anniversary of the loss of my wife of 46 years, this image and message popped up in my Instagram.
“You’re going to get back MORE than what you lost…”
If you wish to track my grief process, in the February 2019 edition of Tips and Topics, I announced “I lost my wife February 23, 2019”. In the SOUL section of the May 2019 edition, I gave an update on my grieving process; and in the August 2019 edition, the whole edition was the SOUL of all the family’s grief, loss, and moving forward. At the one year anniversary of our loss, I wrote about how as a family she didn’t leave us, but rather had “freed us forward”.
“You’re going to get back MORE than what you lost…” got me thinking and it has been true in work, love and play:
COVID has forced me to cut back and get off the travel and training treadmill….. something I have wanted to do anyway. Now that I only need to budget for one person not two, I can work less and keep more resources to use in love and play.
With a long-term marriage, children and grandchildren, the room of love was pretty full. While I lost an important person in that room of love, there has now been space to meet more people with whom to explore relationship in depth. Not only can I hold in my heart the history of a full relationship in long term marriage, but I can now have the fun and fascination of fashioning a new primary partnership.
I had always been taught and conditioned to “get your work done first and then you can play.” With less need to work now and more reasons to love and play, I am experiencing more joy as I get my playtime in first, then do some work. After my morning meditation practice, I have fun playing the New York Times (NYT) Spelling Bee – Make as many words as you can out of the 7 letters they renew each day. You can play a short time for free on the NYT’s app. But then you are hooked to pay the annual subscription as the free game is limited in time and the scope of games offered.
So do you really get back MORE than what you lost? I have…if you make room for it.