Changes during Grieving

Emotional responses to loss

I have touched on models of change in several places.

When I lose something, or some-one, I grieve in one way or another. I’ve had a few of late – people who are/have been close to me. How I grieve is a unique experience to me, although there are several common experiences I share with other people. As I am a mammal, I will share some common responses with other mammals.

The tricky thing about loss is that, sooner or later, each of us will experience it. There will be some-one close to us who dies. Sometimes, they do not die but we feel a loss in our relationship with them, say, when trust is broken, or they breach a boundary that has been keeping you secure.

Loss can include strained or breaking relationships

That broken relationship may involve ‘a loved one’ or, indeed, some-one not so loved. In my experience, things can be even trickier with a person you love and hate – rather than feel indifferent towards. Mixed emotions can be confusing.

Even so, whatever the loss, we will react to it.

In addition, there are many other losses that may generate similar feelings. We can be quite surprised by those events, e.g. loss of property, loss of status, loss of employment, impotency and loss of relationships through divorce and separation.

Even moves of home, often welcomed events, can be accompanied by feelings of sadness and trepidation. What about getting married; you’d think this one would be exempt. For some, it is not.

A training event with Megan Devine

Recently I attended a PESI event on ‘Grief’. I had the good fortune to hear some clear and helpful speakers. In particular, I heard Megan Devine from the US speaking, and that was a refreshing experience.

Her words prompted me to add this further page on the subject of grief, loss and change.

Megan talked about her own response to grief; not as an observer, but as some-one still aware of her own experience of grieving. She was troubled by the temptation to sweep away our grief responses – of a conspiracy (not her word) – between myself and others, not to mention the matter, and to look for a quick exit from the experiences.

Her view was that grieving may not be a welcomed experience, but it is a necessary one. It is an experience that requires rather more respect than it gets, as often as not.

She took the view that we may not like experiencing pain or, indeed, seeing others in pain. She put this down to the avoidance of an oft-unrecognised bias that says ‘grieving is a bad thing’.

Are ‘defeats’ only ever defeats?

Her own behaviour – including her tears – looked grief in the eye. In my own terms, she demonstrated that our experience of grief might feel like a large defeat yet – in time – it can become a victory; an experience that can be understood in a number of ways.

I make a similar point in the scenic route illustration – as seen in this extract from my larger picture:

This might look like ‘time is the great healer‘, but I heard her putting over the view that any healing requires that our grief is respected and allowed to be.

I share with her a distaste for models that pathologised the grief response. She was critical of the recent elevation of some grief responses to a ‘disorder’ within the recently-revised Diagnostic manuals.

The limits of doing

Her message was clear: grieving was not a behaviourial problem to be ‘solved’. It’s not ‘fixable’ in the Robin-sense of the ‘do-able’ thing. It is not an experience to be rushed through. That said, the ‘safe experiment’ around ‘just noticing’ might be one she’d value.

Her thinking about grieving as a deeply engrained response is not contraversial, but her emphasis on grief as a response to help us survive what we have to survive is helpful. Surviving, here, being akin to the experience of the impala as seen in this YouTube clip.

I liked her view of grieving as an ‘untidy’ experience that tells its own truth, and one best seen as ‘normal’ in a world that so often shuns the experience.

Her word for summarising her approach was to ‘rehumanise‘ grief and this may well fit into the attitude fostered in this website.

The human grief response is ‘normal’, that is, it happens to most – if not all – human beings. In fact, grieving can be seen in most mammals, as well as other creatures.

Possibilities drawn from this website

Let me take some themes from this website to see how small, safe experiments might still be relevant when we grieve.

For a start off, how about not experimenting all! For instance, the value of affect regulation, worth knowing about in relation to management of high emotions, may not be a first port of call.

There is a difference between doing and being that reminds me that sometimes I need to stop doing. It seems to be that the grief response, with its tendency to divert my energy elsewhere, can ask me to STOP, LOOK and LISTEN.

I am aware that this page contains a fundamental contradiction; writing about talking ‘experiments’, at a time when any doing is potentially unhelpful. I suspect David Brazier would have a few things to say about that.

Even so, I write this page so that it may help me – and you – better respect what our bodies wants to do. In particular, there are do-able things to consider via actions such as artistic self-expression, walking and other expressive arts.

Despite our experience, when I am able to acknowledge the realities in the room, there are still things I might need to do; one of them is not expecting too much! Being present and attending sounds easy, until I try to do it!

I am not asking you to change your way of grieving, but rather to know it. Just notice when others want you to put it down. This may enable you to assert your right to grieve in your own way.

Further leads to consider

Actions that can be ‘safe experiments’.

The limits of value of action.

Grieving as one stopping place on the scenic route.


When does anything ‘stop’ – grieving and any other experience?

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