Are we only to feel grief when we lose someone precious to us? Is grief reserved for the loss of a loved one? Or can we also grieve when we lose part of ourselves or when our most precious, cherished dreams have been shattered?

We are encouraged to believe that grief is not an everyday emotion. It is not something one feels in the gloom of life’s “little” tragedies. It is only something one can feel while in the midst of life’s enormous catastrophes. We are allowed to experience grief when someone close — a spouse, a family member, a pet — dies,  but not when we feel a dying of our innermost selves. Perhaps, if grief were a more acceptable emotion to feel outside of the death of someone or something we have loved, we would be better equipped to cope with it. Perhaps, if we allowed ourselves to mourn the loss of our former selves, we would be better able to accept the people we are right now. Is not becoming entwined to the past to the point where we cannot break free from it often a form of grief? And might not what feels like sadness, disappointment, or even bitterness at the way our lives have turned out thus far be a form of grief?

Of course, we already know that the world doesn’t want to see our tears. We are supposed to be sensitive enough to cry at the “right” moments (whatever these are — and, yes, generally they are chosen for us). But to weep when, to the outside world, we have no viable reason to do so, is unacceptable. If you’re alive and have your basic needs met, why should you grieve? You shouldn’t, of course. Rather, you should be grateful. Ah yes, forget about the beautiful, exhilarating dreams you waltzed to when you were a child. That was before you understood how the world works. To aspire towards being or having more than what has been allotted to you is mere foolishness. You must be satisfied to read about great men and women in biographies and history books. As for eternal, everlasting love, if you believe in that you must surely have read too many fairy tales when you were growing up.

Self-help gurus tell us that we have the power within ourselves to be whatever we want to be — that the “seeds of greatness” are within us. But, in the real world, life steps in and snatches anything we get that might seem “too good to be true,” as the saying goes. And since we are to focus on all of the blessings we have, acknowledging our grief over any lack that exists in our lives is, we are told, a form of ingratitude. Indeed, it is egregious of us to grieve for that we don’t have or what we failed to achieve when we have so much more to be thankful for than so many other people.

Sadly, though, telling those who are grieving that they must be grateful doesn’t seem to do an enormous amount of good. I know when I am grieving that someone reprimanding me for not being grateful enough doesn’t seem to help. At the same time, I find that in addition to grief I begin to blame myself for my lack of gratitude. Granted, the self-blame only makes the grief more intense, but to those who have so kindly pointed out my folly (i.e., ingratitude) I assure them that they have done their part.

The thing about grief — and those who have genuinely experienced it know this — is that there is no magical remedy for it. You can’t find pills of happiness somewhere or bottles filled with joy. And even if you could, who imagines that joy or happiness will eradicate grief? In many ways, one can experience joy and/or happiness at the same time as grief, for one can feel joy or happiness about one aspect of his life while simultaneously grieving for another part of his existence. Joy and happiness seem, to me, at least, to be far more ephemeral than grief. Joy flies on sparkling wings like a gigantic, bejeweled butterfly, and happiness beams down upon one like a dazzling but fleeting morning sun.

But what about grief? Grief neither flies on wings nor does it give forth light. Grief creates a dark tunnel inside the center of ourselves and burrows deeper and deeper until it strangles all other emotions with its tenacious grip. Grief is the weed that kills the most glorious flowers in the garden of our heart. And yet, its effect can never really be explained, can it? If we try to, we either sound ridiculous or, at the least, melodramatic. So, those of us who feel it often become quite reticent about it, using vague terms like “dissatisfaction,” “sadness,” “despondency,” or “depression,” even though these words do not begin to define the essence of grief. If we are more honest about expressing our feelings, we may say that we are in “a state of despair.” But oft-times, the kinds of explanations that must be forthcoming when we make such a confession make it seem scarcely worth the trouble. And even though grief and despair may be close cousins, they are not the same thing. They may be garments fashioned from similar materials, but they are different.

So how, taking all this into consideration, are we expected to bear grief? Should we smother it with petty worries or suffocate it by staying busy? Should we stab grief in the heart by focusing on being grateful? Since grief cannot be killed, all of these so-called solutions are useless. What one can do, however, is allow oneself to experience grief — to even embrace grief with love rather than attempt to cast it aside with hate. For sorrows, like joys, are given to us for a reason, whether we fully comprehend that reason or not.


This page and all written material at My Odyssey is written by Sascha Norris. (C) Copyright 2012 by Sascha Norris. All Rights Reserved.

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