Throughout his book, I notice that David Richo talks about grief and how it is often intertwined with fear. Much like the way he talks about fear, grief seems to be hidden from us unless there is a death or something along those lines that would fit our traditional concept of a loss. However, there are lots of other losses we might need to grieve as human beings: needs not being met in childhood, a child growing up (even moving from childhood to adolescence), visions of ourselves that are not realized, friendships or relationships becoming more distant/ending, our perception of time being lost to a condition such as an injury or an addiction…the list goes on.
In this section, David Richo orients us to the concept of grief and why we are often in fear of it. First of all, let’s be honest, we all want to avoid the pain that comes with loss. Sometimes the grieving process is protracted and unpredictable because it comes in waves and involves several different emotions. I love the way he describes the complexity of grief: “we fear facing the sadness that italicizes the loss, the anger it happened, the fear that there is no replacement or ultimate comfort for us” (p. 15).
The truth of the matter is that this uncomfortable process is a part of human life. I checked with the conditions of existence, and, yup, loss could fall under any single one of the four truths. If we refuse to grieve, David Richo says, it means we are refusing to experience life fully. This makes sense to me. We don’t get to choose to only feel things we like. If we don’t want to feel any of the uncomfortable things like anger, sadness, jealousy, disappointment, we have to then disengage from our alive, human experience. So, while disengaging, we miss out on the full beauty of the emotions that are a lot more fun. David Richo writes about this and I see it every day in my practice as a therapist. Being shut out from the full range of human emotion leads to depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction in life, trouble in relationships…again, the list goes on. It is a basic disconnection from ourselves. By the way, this is not suggesting that we spend time choosing to be miserable. It just means that we need to honor our true responses to things that occur, give that response an audience and it goes on its way.
Of course, Mr. Richo gives us some grace. He reminds us that it is natural to fear grief as a child. Yes, for a child to lose an attachment figure is really a question of life or death. Think about it: if a child does not have someone to care for her, her physical survival is threatened. How will she manage to have shelter or food? Also, she is not fully developed in her capacity to grieve, so it is terrifying.
That outdated fear just needs to be acknowledged as we remind ourselves that we are adults who are capable of caring for ourselves and tolerating grief even though it can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable.
Finally, I want to mention the last point in this section. Sometimes our fear of grief can make us fight for things that are unrealistic like that relationship with a person that is not a good match for you or is just not into you or that job that doesn’t really fit your goals or life path. Look, there is a moment to be bold, fight for what you believe in and give it everything you’ve got. Definitely. And, then there is a moment to align with reality, what is right in front of you. We don’t always know what we need; sometimes life just gives it to us. My clients hear me say this all the time…it would be great if there were some less painful processes in the human program. I mean, think about child birth. Really? That is the best design? Well, that’s the way babies come into the world and grief is our human program to deal with loss. We need it to be healthy and to exist fully. So, let’s go with it. We can tolerate the pain and we can find support when it is unbearable. And, remember, the moment where it is unbearable cannot last forever. Those intense emotions only come in waves. What will make the process last forever is when we try to stop the natural flow of how we are designed as humans.
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*This post based on the section "Fear of Grief" (pp. 15-17).