Lately it seems that we, as a society, are struggling to grieve. Although we have been dealing with aging, illness and loss for generations, grieving in 2018 presents unique challenges. So much in the world seems to be changing in such fundamental ways that a loss can feel engulfed by a more global grief.
Several of my counseling clients have expressed a similar distress around the feeling that the world keeps spinning along even though their own personal universe is frozen in grief. This universal feeling can become exacerbated when it feels like the world is spinning twice as fast, or spinning out of control. It is common in grief to wake up feeling like you don’t know who you are or where you belong anymore. That feeling is multiplied when you look out to find the world is busy remaking old identities and reshaping communities.
Change Can Compound Grief
We are facing so many big changes that a personal loss can even emerge along with a communal sense of loss. It could be grieving a mother and the collapsing natural environment she loved and protected. Or losing a father and having to watch the small parish where he worshiped close due to declining attendance. A death can accompany the loss of a neighborhood, longing for an old belief that can’t be rescued, or a way of life made obsolete by the new economy.
Ours is a time of change, and with it an added dose of grief. Grief is already a challenging journey without a path or destination. At least in the past, people walked this journey across hard ground—a context that had been there for generations. Nowadays, in the fluidity of modern life, the journey through grief feels more like being lost at sea.
Grief as an Anchor
So if we are lost at sea, how can we navigate our way to a safe harbor, personally and collectively? The answer is to think about grief as an anchor. While at times the tremendous weight of grief can hold you back and feel like a burden sinking your life, it is there to help you. An anchor is meant to keep a ship tethered to the sea floor when needed. Likewise, grief uses this heavy weight to help us stay connected to what makes us real: remembering who we are based on the people we have loved and lived with.
Without grief we would eventually lose our connection to the past, and all the richness it contains. A child with no stories of a grandparent forgets where they came from, but a family that grieves finds a need to tell stories to keep their grandmother’s spirit and grandfather’s grit alive.
Staying Connected While Moving Forward
The more we open to grief, the more we learn to manage and use the heavy emotional weight to stay connected to a past that nurtures us and strengthens our spirit. As a society, we also must be open to the grief of what is being lost. Perhaps there we can discover what truly matters to us in life and should be preserved.
This fluid world will keep changing, and for the near future it looks like it will be fast and unpredictable. There will be new grief, and we must learn how to grieve as individuals, as families, as communities. We must acknowledge what we have lost and what we fear we are losing. Like old mementos and treasured stories, grief can guide us to preserve what is best and most meaningful. We can resist the urge to “let go and move on” and instead find a way to “hold on and move forward,” clinging tight to the essence of what we love.