“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
~ Norman Cousins
Perhaps the most difficult emotional experience that we can go through is the death of a loved one. Learning how to deal with death and the subject of dying is an uncomfortable topic to write about and because of that, it has become difficult dealing with death.
I hope that this short article though not a complete guide on how to overcome death and grieving will at least give you some unique insight that may be helpful.
Psychologists have studied grieving and mourning and how we deal with loss and death for many decades and there are a bunch of different theories on death and grief. One of the most popular is the 5 stages of grief as developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. These 5 stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Although popular, there has been some disagreement on this process and debate as to it’s validity. According to George Bonanno not everyone who experiences a loss experiences grief.
The aforementioned Bonanno has developed his 4 trajectories of grief which are: resilience, recovery, chronic dysfunction and delayed grief or trauma. He gave credence to the idea that overcoming sadness and/or dealing with traumatic loss or death can be accomplished without grief, and that coping with death without grief is a healthy outcome in dealing with traumatic events. This is called resilience.
I am more aligned with Bonanno’s theories on death and grieving. Including his idea of ugly coping or what he calls “coping ugly“. This idea is that many forms of coping with death are counter intuitive or seem unusual but are in fact effective methods.
So let’s explore how to deal with death and trauma more specifically and hopefully you might get some sense of legitimacy and closure for yourself in dealing with death.
This is an important concept and one that I need to give additional emphasis to. You can read more about in the links above but basically it means any method used to cope with death or loss that is not considered normal.
Most people and society at large feels that coping with death is about grieving and crying and becoming depressed. These are seen as the normal cathartic responses when dealing with death.
However, as Bonanno has suggested, most of us deal with the loss of a loved one, with death in its many forms – including death of job aka unemployment – with resilience and this healthy and normal. Most of us and certainly many of us don’t grieve when someone close to us dies. So “coping ugly” is all about the different ways of dealing with death that are not considered normal.
Your response might be laughter, smiling, bawdiness and celebration in addition with sadness or even delayed sadness.
Understand that how you deal with your grief is important and valid. And methods that may seem unusual so long as they are not personally harmful should be considered legitimate methods that you can use and are using in dealing with your loss and tragedy.
Struggling with the issue of death and loss is a profoundly personal challenge. And as such, any method that does not harm you or others is an appropriate method of dealing with death in my opinion. Many cultures deal with death differently and individuals will grieve personally and differently from each other.
Above all else, remember that you are resilient. Indeed, the human spirit can triumph over the most horrendous atrocities and the most saddening of losses.
Dig deep into your resilient spirit and find that method that you need in order to cope with death or the loss and sadness that you are feeling. Whether you need to celebrate or laugh or cry or yell or beat up a punching bag – all of these methods are appropriate and legitimate for you and your way of dealing with death.
Dealing with death is not easy. But it is something that all of us most likely will face at one point in our lives. How you journey through your grief or sadness or even lack of grief when you experience a traumatic loss is your personal path. Let no one determine that path for you.
Just know that if you continue your journey through bereavement and sadness and the loss that you have experienced you will get to the other side.
Believe in the resilience that you possess and move forward through the pain. Travel on through the valley of the shadow of death and learn to live again in the sunny hills where life is made for the living. The dead have moved on to other experiences. I believe that matter is not created or destroyed as is the soul. This is just one brief journey on a physical plane. A room in an infinitely large mansion. Live it fully to its natural end. Work through dealing with death as you feel you must. There is no wrong way. There is only the way through it and back to the enjoyment of life.