Mastering the Storms of Grief
May 23, 2015
I rode out a typhoon off the coast of New Zealand in 2014. When we sailed out of Auckland on January 9 with calm sea and sunny sky, we had no hint of what awaited our small cruise ship at the south end of that island nation. Six days later, we discovered why sailors call this area around 40th and 50th Latitude South the Roaring 40s and the Furious 50s. Waves pummeled our ship and crashed over my balcony. In the most expensive penthouse suites, barware crashed and mattresses slid onto the floor. Occupants dubbed their top-deck accommodations “pay to sway.” Unable to dock, our ship eventually dropped anchor in a protected cove and rode the storm out.
The early stages of grief are much the same. Alan Keith-Lucas, in his classic book Giving and Taking Help, writes that everyone who experiences loss experiences:
- Shock and denial; and
- Protest—the sense of being robbed; bereavement.
However, not everyone goes on to mastery of her grief. Some “detach and despair and never fully recover,” Dr. Helen Harris explained to me. The goal to “be strong” can contribute to this if the bereaved person is denying her feelings and natural responses. The degree of protest is directly related to the degree of mastery.
“Oh, I protested,” I told Dr. Harris. “I ranted on Twitter and Facebook.” I know that protest is okay. The Psalms are full of David’s protests to God. Jesus, as he was dying on the cross, “cried out with a loud voice…‘My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?’” [Matthew 27:46 NASB] What I didn’t know is that protest is mentally healthy and leads to recovery.
I have, until this point in my journey, rejected the idea that full recovery is ever really possible. However, if I accept Dr. Harris’ definition of recovery—which seems close to Keith-Lucas’ theory about mastery—then recovery is an achievable goal. She commented:
Recovery is the place where we are managing our grief instead of it managing us and our responses. Some people think that recovery means that we are fine, as if it never happened. I don’t believe that ever happens. I don’t believe the best answer is to ‘let go.’ Instead, I believe that we integrate the life and death of our loved ones into the total picture of our lives. Recovery is perhaps that place where we remember without reliving the experience of loss.
Did you feel a need to “be strong”?
Did you protest?
Feel free to share your personal story.