When someone close to us passes, a relationship ends, a sentimental item is broken/lost, a job is lost or even as we simply age, mourning and grief reveals itself as a lurking yet prominent companion in our lives.
We reflect on times that were, on experiences past and the impact these had in our life.
These are our stories and memories, to be re-told externally and internally for the rest of our lives and beyond. They are the essence of our identity.
What we are grieving for doesn’t just include what we once had and now lost. It also embodies two other important emotional attachments: What we believed we had and a future we hoped to have.
These last two sentiments lie in our imagination and can be just as vivid, real, and powerful (if not more) as the reality. We can emotionally live in a world that is not always the factual reality, yet still persist to fight for those beliefs. And that’s a great thing, because if we only lived in limited reality, we couldn’t see or create possibility.
In some circumstances, imagination is called vision and inspiration. In others it’s called insanity and fantasy. The only real difference is one’s commitment to the cause and their ability to sell it. Society is less sophisticated and tends to value based on one’s tangible output rather than their potential.
Intense emotional attachment to a projected reality can be said to be the workings of the deranged and troubled, yet it’s also an important driver behind creating a new reality.
Hope is what motivates us to believe in a change, to create and innovate, to boldly try again in the face of adversity and to invest in uncertainty. Hope is what inspires the desperate to fight for life even if death can be the price. Hope is why we get up today and believe it can be better than yesterday. And it’s closely related to expectation.
Without the intense emotional attachment of hope, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to experience bitter disappointment and regret. This dichotomy is an important component to human evolution as it allows us to learn the art of evaluation, re-creation, understanding, emotional intelligence and to provide the purpose and meaning to our existence.
It can be difficult to remain emotionless and practical in a time of loss, particularly when raised in a world that encourages and embraces gain and attachment. A sudden loss tends to only amplify and compound grief.
For some, the mourning period is quite straight forward – a systematic and logical process that removes, suppresses or compartmentalises emotion. It makes for ‘getting on with life’ faster but can leave open wounds, and in time, ugly scar tissue. Work and jumping to another ‘reality’ is a popular distraction here.
For others, the pain is a visceral physiological, mental and emotional process that is dominated by feelings. It provides greater understanding and emotional growth but can also create a tidal wave of sentiment, anxiety and brutal introspection. Alcohol and escaping ‘reality’ is a popular distraction here.
Whichever way (and most of us battle with both at some point), the mourning and grieving process can last from seconds, to weeks, to years.
Sometimes it never completes entirely and is re-manifested in different ways through every aspect of one’s relationships, life, career, mind, body and soul. For example, you might have been stoic in divorce but gave yourself a heart attack for a refusal to feel.
The consequences of how we understand loss and grief is not always pretty but this is what makes us complex, original and in my opinion, beautiful.
Sadly, most choose to resist the effort to deeply understand who they are, preferring to superficially manage their feelings in order to maintain a status quo. This action prevents the opportunity to become comfortable with one’s own emotions and to develop the necessary skills to transform grief back into hope.
It’s like the caterpillar who never cocoons for the fear of being different from the other caterpillars, only to die resenting the butterflies.
With self awareness comes the great responsibility to understand what hope means to us as an individual, and where we are prepared to draw the the line for the things we believe in.
Some people will go much further than others for the same cause. Neither person is right, wrong, better or worse; they are merely separated by perceived boundaries.
However, there’s more to self awareness than just living with beliefs born from past experience. There’s an important decision when considering how your future will manifest as a result of your losses: Will I let this define me, or will I let this refine me?
Only you have the capacity to be brutally honest with yourself here, but as a tidbit: If future hopes are assessed and made based on the fear of past experiences, you are likely being defined and not refined.
When our hopes are dashed, we grieve not just for the loss of the reality, but also the loss of our beliefs and the future we sought to live in to.
It’s a normal thing to feel strong and powerful grief for broken hopes and dreams, but in disappointment, determination can be re-nourished.
It is only those with the capacity to transform grief back into hope, who have the chance to experience the gamut of wealth that life has to offer.