Transforming through grief
Bereavement is a difficult experience in any situation and is taking place under very challenging circumstances during the coronavirus pandemic. Those who experience loss as a direct or indirect consequence to COVID-19 may experience grief and may be isolated from their support network. MasterWord’s CEO, Ludmila Golovine, explores the concept of “Transforming through Grief” with speaker, Tim VanDuivendyk, retired Vice President & Chaplain for Chaplaincy & Spiritual Care. We learn about what grief and grief transformation are, and how we can begin to help those around us who are dealing with grief.
What is grief?
Most people think grief is about feelings only, however, it is so much bigger than emotions. VanDuivendyk defines grief as a “cognitive, emotive, behavioral, spiritual adjustment period after any loss or before a feared loss, such as a diagnosis”. To give more context:
- Grief is emotion. It’s like a rollercoaster, not knowing when you are going to fall deeply into the feelings such as depression, sadness, guilt and anger.
- Grief is behavioral. People may behave in such a way that we won’t know what they are doing. Activities can range from keeping busy, compulsively working, to sitting and staring into space.
- Grief is a spiritual struggle between hope, despair, sadness joy, faith and doubt. It is a constant struggle and can last months or years after loss of significant loved one.
What influences how people deal with grief?
Individual grief is influenced by early childhood experiences
What did the men and women in your life teach you about grieving? Unconsciously we develop a lot of reactions and perceptions about grief in our early years. When grief happens, particularly sudden grief, we tend to regress back and have feelings from our childhood and we use those behaviors. Grief is a cultural event: how we deal with it comes from our family culture as we observe these behaviors from early childhood.
What is the grief transformation?
Grief is an “unwanted gift” and is the way towards healing and transformation
None of us want loss. Grieving becomes the physical thing we use to move through and find healing, to transform, to move forward to new life. In grief we work with emotions, cognitive processes, behaviors and the struggle. Slowly, over time, the emotions, the cognition, the behaviors move into the void of the individual that we have lost. Grieving is the way towards healing and transformation. It’s the connection to our emotions and the person we lost that helps us do the grief work.
Grief and grieving are an expression of gratitude
This is not to suggest you are grateful for death of a loved one. We are talking about the act of grieving. We only grieve over those in which we have a bond or closeness. We usually only grieve over one that mattered to us, so that our tears and our feelings of confusion, behaviors that are bizarre, all are expression of gratitude to life, for the person that we’ve lost.
Grief is a wilderness
Grief is a wilderness. In the wilderness, we get lost and we don’t know where promised land is. The wilderness is an invitation to grief, but in our culture, we get so excited by success, fun, money, etc. that there is not a place to go into the wilderness and others may not know how to respond if you enter the wilderness. And sometimes individuals go through the wilderness by themselves. But the invite of the wilderness is to come to grief. The journey in the wilderness will see anger. Some people don’t like that word, in which case try another word: frustration, impatience, irritability, etc. This can often times be a part of the journey through the wilderness of grief.
A transformation from pain to healing
Have you ever done the hard work of churning cream until it curds and becomes a different substance if you will, becomes butter? That’s what grief work is. If you talk to someone who’s done this, you’ll find out that they get exhausted and frequently have to change to another person to turn to, in grieving in the wilderness. We are churning the cream of life and pain so that slowly, a curd here and a curd there, we begin to heal a little here and a little there, and slowly over months and sometimes years, we come together as a new, being a new substance. This is what transformation is, this is what it means to transform from the pain into healing, hope, a new life.
How do I help someone who is grieving?
Every individual grieves differently. Everyone has a different length of time and repetition of grief and catharsis before they end mourning of their loved one, before they begin to make their fullness and joy a memorial to the loved ones that they lost, and love others more fully.
You may find some people who are thinkers: they think through their struggle to come to new emotion and to come to new behaviors. There are also those individuals who mourn with their emotions: they use their feelings to come to new thoughts into new behaviors. And there are some individuals who focus primarily on action: in taking action and being busy, they find themselves moving to new feelings and new thoughts.
Sometimes you may not understand what someone else is going through. Not all grief is the same, and it’s ok to say you don’t understand their loss. It is also important not to take a person’s grief away, but to be with them in their grief, to listen and walk with them to help them release and find a new creation.
To view the full recording of the webinar, please click here.
About the Speaker
Tim VanDuivendyk, DMin, MDiv, BS, ACPE, LMFT, LPC
Retired Vice President & Chaplain for Chaplaincy & Spiritual Care
Tim P. VanDuivendyk, Board Certified Chaplain credentialed as a Professional Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist, authored The Unwanted Gift of Grief. A frequent lecturer on the subject, Dr. VanDuivendyk knows firsthand what struggles are evoked when professionals serve people at the moment of death and has developed strategies and tools to help mitigate their residual effects. Now retired, his previous roles include Vice President and Chaplain for Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care at Memorial Hermann Health System and adjunct faculty at Houston Baptist University School of Nursing and University of Texas Health Science Center School of Nursing.