I am delighted to announce the release of my next book, The Only Way Out is Through: a Ten Step Journey from Grief to Wholeness. It is being published by Rowman & Littlefield, and is available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
This book is deeply personal, and I hope that the strategies I outline in this book help many of you, as they have helped me through my own grief and challenging transitions in life.
Part memoir of grief, part guidebook, The Only Way Out is Through: A Journey to Wholeness offers a comprehensive structure for the bereaved to return back to the world of the living – not just to exist, but to live. Furthermore, these strategies can be used to help guide you through not only the loss of a loved one, but through many other types of difficult life transitions as well.
Here is a sneak peek at what you can expect to find in my book.
Strategy 2: Real Life—The Mourning Process
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.
—William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act III, Scene III
Mourning is about reality. At the very beginning, your body tries to save you, to keep you from taking the full thrust of your grief. You find that you use phrases to help you take that loss in small increments so that you can stand the pain, bit by bit. You may hear yourself say that your loved one is lost, or gone, or that he isn’t with you anymore. However, you must be brutally honest with yourself here by saying that your loved one is dead. You must be authentic and clear . . . you must be real. Only by “looking death in the eye” can you strengthen and redeem your wounding. For “only the
wounded healer can heal.”
In ancient Judaism, there is a story about the covering of your heart being torn at the time of death. In fact, there is even such a ritual, in which a piece of your jacket lapel is torn at the cemetery edge during a funeral. This rending of your heart, which is symbolized by the tearing of your clothing, reminds you that your wounding opens you to the opportunity of redemption—for as the defenses that socialize you and keep you intact are torn away, you become your undefended self, the real you. From this place of openness and vulnerability, you can connect, in an undefended way, to both your intuition and essential self, allowing you to communicate and interact consciously with others.
For, in this earliest stage of grieving, you feel detached, losing the ability to focus and concentrate. This distraction is a way to deal with pain. Yet if you face the pain, if you are honest with yourself, if your language expresses your true feelings, then out of the pain can come healing, and out of that pain you can reconstruct a new way of living. It is not about recovery—don’t use up your energy in that way—it is about being authentic and clear with your feelings and letting yourself have them.
This is the first time that anger pokes its ugly head up, out of the wound in your heart. You feel like an amputee. A part of you has died, and yet, like an amputee, you still feel the phantom pain of the loss of your loved one.
The loss of a loved one is like the loss of a part of one’s Self; an arm or a leg.
At first, the pain is so physical that it is hard to ignore.
The trauma is so intense that the mind finds it hard to cope with the loss.
With time the pain eases, the body recovers and
the brain figures out new ways to go on.
—Federico Chini, The Sea of Forgotten Memories
People who have historically handled their feelings by repressing them will reach for that pattern once again. Instead, allow your anger to come up, and even though it is painful, express it outwardly. Otherwise, your anger will find a place to reside, and the only place left to you is inside. This internalization of your anger is how you get sick. This is how you get crazy. This is the stage in which you have to think about the simplest realities of life and take care of your basic needs, such as eating, sleeping, physical requirements, and health. You have to treat yourself gently, as if you were your own child. The first stage was courage and choice. These are the things that you must choose to do for yourself, and have the courage with which to follow through. Unfortunately, we all wish that we could rely on others—mates look to one another, children look to parents, and parents look to outside friends and family. On some level, each of these connections has its place.
On the other hand, since everyone in your immediate family has suffered the death of a loved one, there is little capacity within the nuclear unit to help one another. There is only your own resource, and you must reach for it, as
“the only way out is through.” Now, when you have lost your equilibrium, it is important to find a stable and balanced way to approach the day-to-day of living. For example, there will be times, even in the darkest hours of your grief, where something will strike you as funny and make you laugh—that is a good thing. On the other hand, if you go overboard and find ways to make yourself feel better by using food, alcohol, sex, or drugs to an extreme, then you will be out of balance. The key is to stay conscious—to pay attention to yourself and to deliberately avoid using self-destructive means to suppress your pain.
It is very easy to see the allure of alcohol to dull the pain
and the temptation to punish myself for something that is not my fault.
But the sobering truth is that if I step onto the path of self-destruction,
I know I will nevercome back
—Bill Jenkins, What to Do When the Police Leave:
A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss
You have to be cautious here not to enshrine your loved one’s room, or his personality. It is a disservice to his memory to make him into a g-d. Where there is life, there is hope, and if you face the death of those you love realistically, your feelings will have a safe place in which to reside and your wounds will not fester, but heal. People who grieve can live again by simply being with themselves in a calm, quiet atmosphere. This allows tears and joy equal time to surface and mourn. Therefore, crying is
central to this stage. In fact, it is believed that toxins are released from the body through tears. And, there is nothing more toxic to your body than repressed grief.
To weep is to make less the depth of grief.
—William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part II, Act II
I will share two more excerpts from my book in the coming week. Stay tuned!
Be sure to look for The Only Way Out is Through: a Ten Step Journey from Grief to Wholeness on Amazon and Barnes & Noble!