Allowing Grief

I am so proud to bring you this moving guest post from Australian writer, psychotherapist and healer Avril Carruthers. You can read more about Avril at the end of this post:

Letting Ourselves Cry

At my fitness training class in the park recently the group stood with fingers on our carotid arteries having one of our routine heart rate checks, when someone mentioned with amazement his experience of seeing a man on the golf course drop dead after making his swing (and a perfect first shot that landed on the green).

My immediate comment was, ‘Wow, that’s great. I’d like to go like that.’

A spate of comments followed about how people they knew had passed suddenly – whether in their sleep or in the middle of some activity, of natural causes. A girl in a pink t-shirt, whose father passed only a few weeks ago after a long, painful illness, walked a little distance away, her face turned away from the group. Her friend followed and put her arm around her.  Someone said, ‘Can we talk about something more positive?’

It’s interesting. Dying is a natural part of life – how come we see it as negative to even talk about it? More than that, this was a very positive story – a peaceful death, albeit sudden, without pain, while the man was doing something he obviously loved.

The girl came back to the group.
‘I’m sorry.’ She wiped tears from her face and made an effort to smile. Reactions from the group ranged from embarrassed to oblivious. Most people looked away.

I said, ‘It’s fine. Don’t ever apologise for feeling sad. And tears are part of the natural healing process when someone you love has died.’

The trainer called out our next exercise set, which was strenuous, and further talk became impossible.

At the end of the session, I checked on the girl in the pink t-shirt. Her name was Sandy.

‘How are you feeling?’
‘Okay, I guess. I just wish I didn’t just keep breaking down like this. It’s embarrassing.’

How often do we allow ourselves to be affected by how we feel others are seeing us? Our sadness might affect others – as it did the group earlier - but grief passes in time. If we allow it to well up, not put any limitations as to how much or when, or when we ‘should be over it by now’ - if we let ourselves simply cry - it will pass. The only real problem is if we suppress our grief. If we push it away or try to control it, it ends up making us sick. If we persist in suppressing painful emotions, their impact on us become much greater, simply because they are unresolved and the effect become accumulative.

Sandy talked about her mother Monica’s friends telling her cheerily that at 48 she was still young and would soon find another partner.  While these friends were no doubt trying to be comforting and ‘positive’, what they were doing was actually disrespectful.  Not only are they ignoring the rightful place of grief in acknowledging how much Monica’s husband meant to her, they were also indicating that she needed to be distracted from feeling her grief in order to cope with the grieving process. But in reality, the friends were concerned about the pain they themselves felt at Monica’s pain. They would not see it as selfish, but in fact, it is.

I asked Sandy how it made her feel to see this. 

‘Angry.’ Her eyes flashed. ‘Sometimes I’m so angry I could spit at them all.’

Anger too, is a natural part of the grieving process. The more Sandy allows herself to express her natural anger – and the physical exertion of our fitness class is a perfect way to do this safely – the less she will suppress her grief. The more she expresses her grief, the quicker she will pass through this very painful phase of initial loss.  Sandy and Monica will always miss their father and husband, and if they allow the grieving period to take its natural course, the pain of loss will fade in time. If they suppress it, push it away, pretend they are not sad, put on a false front of cheeriness so their friends will not be upset, their grief will affect them for much longer than it needs to.

What is stronger, an oak tree or a willow? A fully mature oak tree resists the wind with rigid, unmoving boughs. If the wind is strong enough it may blow down the stalwart oak tree, but the willow tree will bend with the flow of air, returning to its upright position once the wind has passed.

Allow emotions to flow through you like wind through the branches of a willow tree and you will remain resilient through all life’s varied experiences.

© Avril Carruthers 12.2.2012

Avril Carruthers is the author of two books published by Allen and Unwin:        Let your past go and live, (2008) and Freedom from toxic relationships, (2011)

About Avril Carruthers:
Avril Carruthers (BA M.Couns) has had a private practice in holistic transpersonal psychotherapy and healing in Sydney, Australia for over twenty years. Previously a nurse and a high school teacher, she teaches meditation and spiritual development and is an educator at the Australian College of Applied Psychology.

AvrilCarruthersApart from her qualifications in psychotherapy and counselling, Avril's practice rests on three decades of study and experience in energetic and spiritual healing with a number of martial arts, healing masters and meditation schools. Her second book, Freedom From Toxic Relationships, deals with relationships, the nature of attachment and psychic cords. It was released in May 2011.


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