Sunday, June 18, 2006

Finding validation, finding God

In grief, we learn to recognize:

  • That we are in grief; everyone is vulnerable, grief is not just for other people, it is not avoidable. Denial is not a solution.
  • That we can feel what is happening to us. Extreme grief is so intense that internal circuit breakers kick in and submerge or isolate the feelings we have, but grief is not gone when that happens, and feelings will happen.
  • That what we are going through is a part of the human experience for everyone who has loss. The validation of that type of recognition is very important, and it is one of the most valuable things that members of a grief support group provide each other: validation that the terrible stresses and emotions we feel are normal, human and real.
We can find validation in grief, if we reach out or are reached by others. I write, in part, because so many people have written me to let me know that in things I have written they found the first steps of recognition, validation and understanding in their grief.

Recognition in grief is vastly different from recognition in a twelve step program. In a twelve step program, the community exists to say "we see through your denial, but you can recover if you will just embrace honesty." In grief, the community exists to say "you aren't alone, you aren't going crazy. You are not ok, but you will be ok, you can live through this."

In grief you will find recognition as a part of validation. No twelve step program I am aware of exists to validate the behaviors they seek to overcome. All grief groups exist to validate grief.

That is why the second step of a twelve step program, which is the key to a twelve step program, is merely a part of the journey that is grief work. God is a tool for recovery from grief, not the core requirement.

This early separation is why grief communities lose interest in twelve step programs. There is no sudden enlightenment that draws us irrevocably out of grief. No one walks into Compassionate Friends and walks out free from grief, many suffering from alcoholism walk into AA meetings and emerge sober, if not their first night, within ninety days.

Alas, grief must be lived through, must be worked through, it is not something we are rescued from, regardless of moments of enlightenment along the way.

But I'll return to the topic, because further in, twelve step programs have tools and realizations that are useful for grief work, useful for life, useful for recovery. While it is only a tool in grief work, the realization that God can help us work through our sorrows and grief is important to grief work.

When responding to grief, it appears that God doesn't care how we visualize him, what our faith or tradition is, or how we pray, as long as we sincerely seek God. (There have been a number of good scientific studies on God and grief recovery). AA's "God of your understanding" is very true of the merciful and kind God who aids those in grief who honestly seek God. Which brings us back to places twelve step program applications are useful.

But remember, God is faithful and kind to those who seek him in grief, gentle with them according to their understandings, hope and faith.

May faith, hope and love attend you.


Jeff Lindsay said...

Excellent points.

On the other hand, I think there are moments when the power of God can irrevocably free us from guilt and the pain of sin, and do much to wipe away tears of grief. But even with miraculously powerful divine aid, time and patience are still often needed, at least for this mortal journey.

I think, though, that a moment in the presence of the Savior one day can vaporize our grief and fill it with joy.

Stephen said...

I agree that there are moments, and that in the end, Christ will swallow up all our pain.

It is just getting there, you know.

Johnna said...

This is really astounding stuff I haven't heard before.

It explains why addiction advice is so often helpful to me. And yet, I don't have an addiction--though I'm always afraid I might develop one, since any little thing, like food, that takes away the whole sense of this-is-happening-to-me, is easy to come back to.

Wow, to have someone say those things to me, "you are not alone, you are not going crazy, you will be okay, you can live through this." I'm amazed how helpful it is to read those words, though they are simply being posted, not applied to me.

Anonymous said...

While I said that I have never really grieved, that is to say that I have never really missed a person that much when they died or felt very sad in their death. The saddest that I ever felt was when my cat died. However, I think losing my Grandma in 8th grade really messed me up though I did not cry much or feel very sad. I used to go over and be with her and help her with medication as she was pretty near bed ridden while grandma would go out with friends. She thought I was so good and could be a nurse. I got close to her and loved her. She wanted to see me when she was in the hospital. I went with my mom and her mind was not quite right and she was seeing things a little bit in her I.V. and I think something else. She was able to talk and was the same sweet Grandma and was happy to hear of my cousins coming from Michigan to visit. She was in a coma by the time my aunt and cousins arrived and only my aunt visited. I remember at one point having a dream of being in bed with her and her mind was not quite right and it made me nervous. Before her hospitalization, I would sit next to her in bed a lot and we would tell me stories or we would watch t.v. My mom told me before walking the couple blocks to my grandparent's home that she died. Then, we went with my mom and my cousins there. When my mom and aunt broke the news to the other children, I remember them breaking down and sobbing. I just sat there. And I know my cousins were still in town when I had an attack where I thought I was dying. I don't remember if I ever had one before. My sister and cousin were small enough to fit on a twin bed and I went to sleep at their feet. I am not sure how long I had those attacks at night where I thought I was dying. Also, I would hate the thought of my grandma finding out that I was not the perfect little grandchild that she thought that I was. I hated the thought of her looking down from heaven and seeing me when I was a little moody in my early teen years. She was the first person close to me that I ever lost and I have never grieved hard for any of my grandparents. I still hate the thought of any of them looking at me from heaven.

annegb said...

I don't agree with you, Jeff, relating your premise to the subject of grieving ones' children. I don't believe God can take that away in this life.

Stephen, are you by any chance working with that 12 step group the church has? Just curious.

I went to a couple of groups after my son's suicide and as you said, didn't find my grief assuaged. What I did find, though, was validation that what I was experiencing was normal. I needed that badly.

Stephen said...

Annegb -- I keep meaning to read the church's 12 step manual -- I printed it out and got about 3 chapters read. I haven't gone to any Church based 12 step meetings. Guess I should.

I liked Compassionate Friends in Wichita Falls a lot, and Journey of Hope in Plano helped my daughter a good deal.

You are right about validation.