Chris Cooper PhD

On Grief

I would like to share some thoughts which were brought into focus by a friend of mine who recently sent an e-mail in which she eloquently spoke about her reflections concerning a book she was reading. The book was called Broken Open; How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser. My friend has spent the past several years dealing with health problems, the deaths of parents, and other significant losses. In her e-mail she pointed out how difficult it is to find room for psychological and emotional healing in our society. The blatant example, symbolic of our attitudes, is the 3-day bereavement leave most companies offer their employees after the death of a parent or spouse. I currently know a number of people dealing with such losses and it seems to me that it is a good thing to stop and reflect on such things. I would like to share some of my reflections with you.

I recently spoke with a friend who is grieving because her mother died a few months ago and the holidays are really hard for her. She talks about her sadness and expresses it with tears. But there is an additional burden brought on by our cultural attitude (and its 3-day bereavement time) which causes her expression of sadness to be punctuated by “Why can’t I get over this? I must not be normal!” or “My family won’t talk about this and they get upset when I try to talk about it or when I cry.” I assured her that I believe she is very normal and that she will never “get over it.” It will change and it will take a different form and place in her life. But I just don’t think one ever gets over losing a loved parent, the rupture of a cherished relationship or many of the other losses that change our psyches forever. The changes to our psyches in the end may not be bad – and they might even be really positive. But, to transform the experience and integrate it into one’s life takes time, courage and a great deal of effort.

I affirm for this person that she is facing a very rough year– a year of firsts. The first Mother’s Day without Mom — the first Christmas, birthday, visit to that store Mom loved and on and on. To do this consciously and be present in it takes courage, but done well can also be the impetus for learning, a sense of meaning and personal growth.

I write this in the hope that we all reflect on the psychological and emotional healing process for ourselves and others. And the hope that we support that psychological and emotional healing with the gifts of compassion, patience, and appreciation of the courage it takes to feel one’s own deepest feelings and sit quietly for however long it takes with those of others.