Good Grief! What’s so Great about Grief?

by Dr Angel Adams, Dr Patricia Papciak

“Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break.” — William Shakespeare

You might be asking yourself, how could this topic be inspirational and what could possibly be good about grief? This is an especially heartbreaking question for someone who has just suffered a painful loss, perhaps associated with divorce, death of a child, a parent, or a beloved pet, a missed opportunity, or a lost job. Grief is an overwhelming emotion and part of the human experience as everyone in this world will grieve at one time or another.

Grief is what you think and feel on the inside when you lose someone or something. Mourning is the expression of those thoughts and feelings and involves sharing those feelings with others. You mourn when you talk to other people about your grief or when you express it through art or music or write it in your journal. You may be grieving inside but unless you let out those painful thoughts and feelings, you may not truly heal. When you don’t mourn, you may get stuck and frozen in the grief and it may prevent you from moving on. You need to reach out and be comforted and grow personally and spiritually. This helps you to develop your sense of empathy and compassion. It can be a transformative experience for children and adults if they get the love and support they need when mourning. Good experiences can come from grief if the person is given the safety, space, time, and chance to mourn.

Image: A flying dove

Oil Painting by David Adams, 1923-2006

When parents first find out that their child has a disability, they may go through their own individual grief process. The dream of a normal child and a normal life for that child and for the rest of the family has now gone. Grieving is usually thought of in terms of death. One grieves because of a great loss. When a child has been diagnosed with a chronic illness or disorder, parents grieve for the child they imagined. It is a psychological loss, because our environment and our society have taught us to expect certain things from the process of parenthood. We expect to have perfect children who will grow and thrive in a normal way. When a child has a physical or psychological disorder, parents have a right to grieve and grieving is a normal and healthy process.

Dr Elizabeth Kubler Ross is a well known psychiatrist who was born in Zurich Switzerland. She came to the United States in 1958 and spent the rest of her life working with dying patients. She wrote a ground breaking book on the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), and these are definitely transferable to parents who are confronted by their losses. The five stages help us frame and identify what we may be feeling when we grieve, but not every parent goes through all of them or in a prescribed order, it just gives us a framework to help in the healing process of grief.

Parents with a child who has been diagnosed with a life-span or medical condition can feel fear or panic about their child’s future. They may have fear about how this will affect their marriage, fear about whether they are equipped to handle the myriad of issues and stress, fear of being de-skilled, and they may even develop a generalised anxiety that infuses their every day living. The grieving process can also begin with denial. This is an overall disbelief about the loss or sadness that one is faced with. Sometimes parents will deny, disassociate, or feel numb.

Once the realisation sinks in that the problem is not going to go away, parents may feel anger. They may feel like lashing out at someone or something to blame for this situation. Although doctors or friends may be kind and try to help them deal with the problems, their words often sound empty because they know the problem is not theirs. Parents can spend a long time thinking about what they could have done differently. They may have overwhelming thoughts that begin with “If only…” or “What if…?” because they want their life to return to the way it was and they feel they have somehow caused this.

When reality sets in it can happen quickly, this can send parents down the pathway to depression as they believe there is nothing they can do to change the diagnosis. There is nothing that will cure their child’s condition. They may withdraw from life, escape in various ways, feel oceans of sadness, and self-medicate to escape the pain. Yet the depression is an important healing stage as it helps them to arrive at an acceptance of the situation. It important to get comfort from other parents who have gone through this and you are truly in the mourning process.

Acceptance can be a very spiritual time. One chapter of life has closed and another has now opened. Mourning can help a parent work towards the kinds of things that will help them to become strong again. Such things as eating well, exercising, and talking with friends about the situation are very useful. It can also be useful to attend support groups or find things to read where other people have suffered and have found their way through their grief. New connections are then made with each other and people become more interdependent. They are now taking care of their need to change, to thrive, to grow and to evolve. The following was written by Emily Perl Kingsley regarding her experience with her child who has autism, called Welcome to Holland.

Tich Nhat Hanh is a teacher, a monk, and a poet. When his mother died he wrote in his journal “A serious misfortune of my life has arrived.” He wrote that he suffered for one year after her passing away. Then one night he had a beautiful dream about her in which they were reunited. When he woke up early in the morning he went out for a walk in the fields of Vietnam. It was still dark and the entire hillside was bathed in moonlight. He had this revelation that his mother was alive in him. “She was the moonlight caressing me as she had done so often. Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was with me. I knew this body of mine was a living continuation of my mother and my father. These feet that I saw as ‘my’ feet were actually ‘our’ feet. Together my mother and I were leaving foot prints in the damp soil. All I had to do was look at the palm of my hand, feel the breeze on my face or the earth under my feet to remember that my mother is always with me”.

Grief can become a good thing when it is part of a healing process and when it helps us to redefine, refocus, and redirect our lives. To help you through this process, we have listed a few resources below including a video which is moving, comforting, and totally inspiring. The video is called ‘Portrait of a Human Being’ starring Carlos Araujo and is available to watch on-line right now. It was filmed by Nick Askew:


Michael Meegan’sAll Will Be Well” is a book dedicated to real life stories about people he knew who faced great tribulations and who deeply inspired him.

Robin Norwood’sWhy Me, Why This, Why Now?” Discusses the kinds of tragic things that happen in life that might be turned into a process for growth and spiritual strength.

Scott Peck wrote a book you may be familiar with. It is called “The Road Less Traveled“. Don’t confuse the title with the poem by Robert Frost. Peck’s title is taken from the poem. It is beautifully written and the last section on “Grace” is truly enlightening.

Tich Nhat Hanh’sNo Death No Fear, Comforting Wisdom For Life“. A passage of this book is written above.

Walt Whitman’sLeaves of Grass“. This book gives a poetic vision that is inspirational to many. The opening lines from “Song to the Open Road” are useful for all kinds of emergencies.

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good fortune, I myself am good-fortune…
Strong and content I travel the open road”.

Thanks for taking the time to read this Monday’s Motivational article.

Please feel free to send me any comments or your own stories you wish to share, or post your comment to the site by leaving a comment below.

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