In a culture such as ours, death is often viewed as a malevolent aberration rather than the normal and natural outcome of being alive. Don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of putting it off as long as possible, but the brutal fact is that we can't put it off forever. Sooner or later we will make that passage as will all those we love.
As sobering as the fact of death is, even more sobering is the impact of our own denial on those left behind following the death of someone they love.
In a culture that thrives on quick fixes, grief is often treated with impatience and scorn. This does a profound disservice to those who are grieving by instilling in them a vague sense of shame about their grief. It makes them question whether there is something wrong when they don't bounce back to "normal" after the funeral, as if the funeral were the end of it when anyone who has been through it knows, the funeral is just the beginning.
Worst of all, this cultural discomfort makes people who are grieving distrust their own experience. In my work with people who are grieving, I've heard way too many people doubt themselves, and worse berate themselves, because they can't "get a handle" on their grief. This distrust and denial of the process yields a predictable result...prolonged pain and incomplete healing.
Rather than seeing grief as the means to healing and embracing it as such, grief becomes the enemy. Grief is viewed as a problem to be fixed, something in need of healing rather than what it is...the means of healing. Grief is what heals us after a loss. Whether anticipated, sudden, accidental, timely or not, grief is the process through which we heal.
Maybe that sounds like semantic nitpicking but it is a vitally important distinction. Here's why: The problem is not the grief. The problem is the loss. It's the loss of someone we love that is causing the pain. Grief is the process through which we come to terms with that loss. Is it painful? Of course it is. That doesn't mean we need to fix it. The interesting thing about pain is that it increases when we resist it. This is true of emotional and physical pain. Tightening muscles around physical pain increases the experience of pain. Trying to block emotional pain intensifies the pain and sends it spiraling out of control.
Human beings are miraculous creatures. When we experience suffering, as in the death of someone we love, we have an innate capacity to heal from that loss just like we have an innate capacity to heal from a broken bone. Grief is every bit as natural to us as the knitting of a bone. There are certainly ways to support the process...writing, telling stories, creating rituals to name a few...which can be quite effective when used in support of the grieving process, not in denial of it.
When grief is denied, rushed, or scorned, the whole mechanism of healing ceases to function. We are designed to heal. We can't deny the process nor can we improve upon it. Grief, when we trust it, knows exactly what we need in order to heal. It is a most trustworthy companion when we possess the wisdom to follow it.