Loss, Grief and Healing: The Secret Doorway to New Joy (Part I)
This blog post and the next were written by my friend and colleague, Bill Gottlieb, CHC — a health coach certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, the former editor-in-chief of Rodale Books and Prevention Magazine Books, and the author or co-author of 14 health books that have sold more than two million copies, including my book Real Cause, Real Cure. (Visit Bill's website.)
In December of last year, Bill lost his wife to breast cancer, and I've asked him to share his experience of loss, grief and healing — a topic very relevant to those with a severe illness like CFS/FMS, who may have lost (and grieved for) their physical well-being and full ability to function. I'll let Bill take it from here…
Love & blessings,
How to Turn Loss into Newfound Life
By Bill Gottlieb, CHC
Loss is an inevitable part of living. You can lose those you love — a pet, a friend, a sibling, a child, a parent, a spouse. You can lose your security — your job, your money, your home. And you can lose your health — your energy, your physical comfort, your clarity, your confidence, your joy.
In the last two years I have lost three of those I loved the most. In November, 2012, my sister and dear friend Jan died from 4th stage breast cancer. In August, 2013, my cat of 19 years — Suzie, my sweet, free companion — passed away.
And on December 29, 2013 — after an 11-year battle with breast cancer, including the last 16 months of her life, when the 4th deadly stage of the disease destroyed the body of this tall, lovely, loving, smart, vibrant woman — on the Sunday before the kiss of New Year's Eve, Denise, my beloved wife of 18 years, died at home in my arms, her last words, "I love you…"
Love left. Love was lost. My heart was broken and my life was shattered. Suddenly, I was living alone; suddenly, I had a new and relentless companion — a sorrow so penetrating and constant, so rooted in the fierce and final fact of death, that I felt it could not and would not end.
I was wandering in the strange, dark wilderness of deep grief, lost, unable to complete any task I'd started, with no interest in anyone or anything, my emotions careening — sad, angry, sad, anxious, sad. Sad.
Yet six months after my wife's death, I meet the day with steady enthusiasm and energy. Of course I continue to grieve: I will always miss my darling Denise. But I have learned — amazingly, wonderfully — that a broken heart is fertile ground for love. I have learned that grief — fully experienced and expressed — gives rise to fresh compassion and kindness, and to an abiding desire to serve others: for we are all liable to loss here, all vulnerable, all destined to die. Yes, every mortal being wants and needs love — and grief has sensitized me to that need. Loss and love; grief and joy — these are the mutual and natural realities of the truly broken heart, alive to love.
But this discovery of new love and joy was not automatic; time did not heal my loss-riddled wounds. Healing happened because of intense "grief work," true companionship and divine blessings. In this and the next newsletter, I would like to tell you more about how and why my healing happened — including the ten "doorways" I walked through to new joy. My hope: that you, too, will walk through one or more of these doorways to heal your own grief from the losses in your life — and thereby find a new sense of purpose, happiness and love.
The 10 Doorways to New Joy
1. Educate yourself about grief and mourning.
When my wife died I found myself in a place I had never been: the wilderness of grief. Yes, I had lost other people I'd loved. But there is a reason why "Death of spouse" is given the most points (100) on the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory (with "Divorce" a distant second at 73 points, and dozens of other stressful events following). Losing my spouse — my best friend, with whom I'd shared so much of my life, and to whom I'd devoted so much practical care in the years of her cancer — was like a dismemberment. I had never experienced anything like it. I had no preparation for it, no orientation to it.
But I was lucky.
Soon after the death, my literary agent and friend sent me a book called "Seven Choices: Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World" — written by a client of hers who'd lost her husband when she was in her thirties. This wise and descriptive book allowed me to understand that I was not insane (which is how I felt); I was grieving.
I devoured that book — it was my companion in the first month of my grief — and ordered many others about grief. For me, the best of those books were by the sympathetic and insightful Alan Wolfelt, PhD, director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and Colorado, including his most recent, Loving from the Outside In, Mourning from the Inside Out. Dr. Wolfelt is the source of many of the concepts and insights I am sharing with you. From him, I learned to understand the terrain of the "wilderness" of grief, and I used his "touchstones" to find my way.
I learned that grief is the inner EXPERIENCE of loss — and mourning is the EXPRESSION of loss. And that this active, expressive mourning — for example, talking about the loss, writing about the loss, making a scrapbook, lighting a memorial candle every day — is the way to gradually heal the wound of grief. Without this education, I wouldn't have known where I was or how to find my way.
I strongly urge you to make use of whatever resources are available to educate yourself about your own loss, whether it's the loss of a loved one, the loss of your health, or some other type of loss. Read a book; check out a website; listen to a CD. The feeling heart is reassured and strengthened when it UNDERSTANDS loss and grief — even if the grief does not change.
2. To heal your grief, feel your grief.
Two days after Denise died I went in the morning to Clear Lake, a large inland lake about 10 miles from my home in California. Everything there reminded me of Denise and made me weep. And I realized that this was the way it would be — this deep, possessing grief — for a long, long time. And my broken heart whispered, Accept this…
Acceptance, surrender — fully feeling exactly what you are feeling, instead of trying to suppress the feelings, or escape them by distracting yourself — is the primary way to heal loss and grief. What is not fully felt is not fully released — bodily, mentally, and emotionally.
I have met many grievers who never did this mindful work of grieving — of allowing themselves to fully feel their feelings; to talk about the loss; to cry unashamedly; to mourn for real. And years after the death they were still confused and without a sense of purpose… sometimes still isolated because they couldn't stand social contact (a common feature of early grief)… and depressed.
Feel your feelings! (This is also a core principle of health and healing taught by my friend Dr. Teitelbaum, in his e-book Three Steps to Happiness!) Accept your feelings. Don't try to suppress or avoid them. "Feel it to heal it," says Dr. Wolfelt. That is excellent advice.
Next week: the next installment of "Loss, Grief and Healing" — and eight more doorways to joy!
In love and friendship,
Bill Gottlieb, CHC
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of eight research studies on their effective treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.