Being stuck in the past with unresolved grief

People can get such powerful upheavals in their lives that it can get very hard to move on as a result. They can be very stuck in the past, although it might not seem like that. The challenge can be very much about finding ways to let go of what happened, and bring it to completion so that they can free themselves up to move on.

A classic example of this is a bereavement, where someone might so miss, say, their dead partner that for years afterwards they feel unable to let go of the dead person. This might be such that they feel they cannot move on and meet and be with another. A famous example of this was of course Queen Victoria after the death of her beloved Prince Albert. Another, from literature, is Miss Havisham in Dickens’ “Great Expectations“, jilted on her wedding day, still in her wedding dress and keeping her wedding feast laid for a feast that never happened. At one level you might think, should they? Of course, it might work for them to be like this, and this brings up the important questions of it not being about what’s “right” but instead what serves them as individuals. Where this sort of matter becomes an issue is where the person concerned would like to move on, but feels unable to do so. It’s when they decide that it’s not OK for them.

Unfinished business

Such a stuckness is what we would call a fixed Gestalt, unfinished business, where there’s grieving to be done and a process of letting go to be gone through, which can include facing and working through the pain, and embracing the feelings that can come up. Very often people have felt unable to go through the full grieving process. However, each in their own time. It can take years to work this sort of stuff through, and sometimes people don’t really deal with their loss and their grief until years later. We need to be gentle with ourselves and let healing take its natural course. For others, they decide they aren’t going to let it hold them up and they take hold of an opportunity, in a manner of speaking, and allow the feelings to come up and be released.

It’s worth taking an inner look and asking ourselves what stuff from the past we’re holding on to, where we’re stuck in the past, what we’ve not let go of. Otherwise it’s held inside, in the body, and eats away inside us, a life put on hold, held in a freeze-frame in the past, incomplete, unfinished, and yet unfulfilled, like a perpetual sadness (and perhaps rage too), and a held-on-to perpetual sadness too.

Thus by being stuck in the past we can prevent ourselves from embracing all that life offers us in each and every moment, the joy of aliveness and the love of life. Yet it’s always there, for whenever we choose to let go and go and enjoy it. We hold the key. We can open the door from the inside, and step out, and be who we really are. When we choose.

To make an end is to make a beginning – a farewell to our friend Mary

It’s been a bit of a week. It started with being in Dublin when Ireland was learning its fate at the hands of the EU and IMF and ended with the death of one of our friends. Sometimes life seems to go like this, a bunch of momentous events. Where we make an end of something we also make a beginning.

Our friend who just died was 82 and had just written and published her autobiography, which it had taken her 4 years to write. I was really impressed that she, Mary, chose to wrap her life up in this way. One, to write an autobiography having never written a book before, and two, no sooner was it published than she got sick and died. It’s like she had brought things to a fitting close.

She was a courageous person. Not all that long ago she organised and carried out her own world circumnavigation, staying with various women in different parts of the world under a reciprocal arrangement and despite breaking her ankle at one point. She had a gritty, gusty way that we might say characterised those raised during the Second World War, blitz and all. A gruff, reserved exterior, she could be shockingly blunt and rude even, but she was kind, caring and heart-felt in her own way.

When people around us die, it can feel strange and unreal at first, perhaps the shock phase of the grieving cycle described by Elizabeth Kubler-Rosse. One moment, there she is and the next, gone.

Of course, from my understanding, she has simply left her body for her next phase in re-connecting with the Whole, but as a human grief is a real and palpable experience, about me and her other friends, and her family, as humans coming to terms with someone going in a totally final way.

The two certainties, existentialists say, about life is that we are born and we die. They are “givens” and some say it is up to us what meaning we make of that. To them however, life ceases at that point. Not for me it doesn’t. But each death still raises once again the challenge of facing the finiteness of life in its material form. To connect with that is to face the fear of ending. No wonder so many of us fear and avoid endings.

TS Eliot wrote,

“To make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from….
We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
(extracts from Little Gidding)

To me, that’s it: we need to do the journey to really know who we are, which is where we started.

So it somehow seems really fitting that right after, we got this YouTube video clip from a friend, one that is no doubt doing the rounds. Thank you, Richard for this. So I thought you might like to watch it (see the link below). Whatever your religious perspective, there’s to me an affirmation of joy in this chorus from the well-known choral work by Handel, “The Messiah,” in a very unlikely setting.

Joy is who we are. Death is sad and, sure, is feared by us but what we need to do is see beyond the fear to what it has to teach us, through the tears, about life and about what lasts above and beyond the illusion of finiteness.

For the love of our friend Mary. I wish you well on your journey. Enjoy.