When the infographic showed up in my email, the title caught my eye. "How to get over grief." Scanning it, I saw a snippet that said that contrary to the stages of grief articulated
by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (EKR), people don't move through grief in sequential lockstep.
Seeing such errors so quickly I didn't bother to read the rest of it.
The second error is a common one. EKR never intended for her five stages of grief to be taken as a prescription, stair steps to work through in order. Anne Lamott said it best when she talked about them being like the wheel on Wheel of Fortune. One day (or moment) we may stop on anger and another day (or moment) on depression and so forth.
But the first error is the biggest. It's the title. Talking about "getting over grief" is misleading. We get over a cold, going back to our pre-sniffles state. We don't get over grief. If we are brave, we walk through it and the act of the walking and the places the journey takes us changes us.
When we've had a significant loss, it will never be just as it was before the loss. How can it be? There's a hole there; something is missing. And if we allow ourselves to grieve there's a second kind of loss- the loss of the person you were. Grief changes us. It may be a positive change; for example, choosing to live a deeper life. But it changes us.
When we think it terms of getting over grief, it sets us up. It makes it seems as if healing means going back to the way things were before the loss happened. But that can never be.
So what does healing look like? Healing means allowing your heart and your life to grow larger so that the hole left by loss isn't the only thing there. Healing means finding a way to begin the next chapter of your life, the one that doesn't include your loved one.
If you're struggling with grief (whether the loss is fresh or ancient) I highly recommend the grief workshops that EKR's staff carried forward after she retired. You can find a listing of them at www.externalizatonworkshops.com. I'll be staffing the Life, Loss and Healing workshop at Avlia Retreat Center in Durham, NC in May.