Why Grieve?

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By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.


I was leading a workshop when someone asked, “Why grieve?”  Good question, I thought, knowing that the person who asked the question had been mostly an observer of others’ grief, and not one who had walked that lonely road himself.

I think this person was really asking, “Is there any value to the suffering that accompanies grief? Why should someone have to feel so bad for so long?  What good does it do?  Is it really necessary to give in to grief and let it take us to the depths of despair?  Wouldn't it make more sense to spend our time in more positive, less disturbing pursuits?”

My response is that, even though grief is inevitable, painful, time consuming, and difficult, it is in truth beneficial!  We are, in the end, better off for having grieved.

I like to think of grieving as a natural cleansing operation that helps our minds and bodies to process the difficult changes of our present and past in order to make room for new life to blossom.

The value of this cleansing operation is recognized in the following observations by respected writers and philosophers:

“Deep unspeakable suffering may well be called a baptism, a regeneration, the initiation into a new state.”  George Elliott

“We are healed of a suffering only by expressing it to the full.”  Marcel Proust

“To love is to suffer.  To avoid suffering, one must not love.  But then, one suffers from not loving.  Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer.  To be happy is to love.  To be happy, then is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy.  Therefore, to be happy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.”  Woody Allen.

“One can not love without opening oneself, and opening oneself, that's taking the risk of suffering. One does not have control.
Isabelle Adjani

“The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”  Thomas Merton

"The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.”  Ben Okri

"The world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it."  Helen Keller

My hope is that in this fast paced life of ours where there is little time for grieving, we give ourselves permission to do what we need to do to honor the experience that comes after loss.

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