Seek Reconciliation, Not Resolution
Author: Alan Wolfelt
“Mourning never really ends. Only as time goes on, it erupts less frequently.” ~ Anonymous
How do you ever find your way out of the wilderness of your grief? You don't have to dwell there forever, do you?
The good news is that no, you don't have to dwell there forever. If you follow the trail markers on your journey through the wilderness, you will find your way out. But just as with any significant experience in your life, the wilderness will always live inside you and be a part of who you are.
A number of psychological models describing grief refer to resolution, recovery, reestablishment, or reorganization as being the destination of your grief journey. You may have heard-indeed you may believe-that your grief journey's end will come when you resolve, or recover from, your grief.
But you may also be coming to understand one of the fundamental truths of grief: your journey will never truly end. People do not "get over" grief. My personal and professional experience tells me that a total return to normalcy after the death of someone loved is not possible; we are all forever changed by the experience of grief.
Reconciliation is a term I find more appropriate for what occurs as you work to integrate the new reality of moving forward in life without the physical presence of the person who died. With reconciliation comes a renewed sense of energy and confidence, an ability to fully acknowledge the reality of the death, and a capacity to become re-involved in the activities of living. There is also an acknowledgment that pain and grief are difficult, yet necessary, parts of life.
As the experience of reconciliation unfolds, you will recognize that life is and will continue to be different without the presence of the person who died. Changing the relationship with the person who died from one of presence to one of memory and redirecting one's energy and initiative toward the future often takes longer-and involves more hard work-than most people are aware. We, as human beings, never resolve our grief, but instead become reconciled to it.
We come to reconciliation in our grief journeys when the full reality of the death becomes a part of us. Beyond an intellectual working through of the death, there is also an emotional and spiritual working through. What had been understood at the "head" level is now understood at the "heart" level.
Keep in mind that reconciliation doesn't just happen. You reach it through deliberate mourning, by
- talking it out
- writing it out
- crying it out
- thinking it out
- playing it out
- painting (or sculpting) it out
- dancing it out
- et cetera!
You don't get to go around or above your grief. You must go through it. And while you are going through it, you must express it.
You will find that as you achieve reconciliation, the sharp, ever-present pain of grief will give rise to a renewed sense of meaning and purpose. Your feelings of loss will not completely disappear, yet they will soften. And the intense pangs of grief will become less frequent. Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future, realizing that the person you have given love to and received love from will never be forgotten. The unfolding of this journey is not intended to create a return to an "old normal" but the discovery of a "new normal."
To help explore where you are in your movement toward reconciliation, the following criteria that suggest healing may be helpful. You don't have to meet each of these criteria for healing to be taking place.
Remember, reconciliation is an ongoing process. If you are early in the work of mourning, you may not meet any of these criteria. But this list will give you a way to monitor your movement toward healing. You may want to place check marks beside those criteria you believe you meet.
Signs of Reconciliation
As you embrace your grief and do the work of mourning, you can and will be able to demonstrate the majority of the following:
- A recognition of the reality and finality of the death
- A return to stable eating and sleeping patterns
- A renewed sense of release from the person who has died - you will have thoughts about the person, but you will not be preoccupied by these thoughts.
- The capacity to enjoy experiences in life that are normally enjoyable
- The establishment of new and healthy relationships
- The capacity to live a full life without feelings of guilt or lack of self-respect
- The drive to organize and plan one's life toward the future
- The serenity to become comfortable with the way things are rather than attempting to make things as they were
- The versatility to welcome more change into your life
- The awareness that you have allowed yourself to fully grieve, and you have survived
- The awareness that you do not "get over" your grief; instead, you have a new reality, meaning, and purpose in your life.
- The acquaintance of new parts of yourself that you have discovered in your grief journey.
- The adjustment to new role changes that have resulted from the loss of the relationship
- The acknowledgment that the pain of loss is an inherent part of life resulting from the ability to give and receive love
Reconciliation emerges much in the way grass grows. Usually we don't check our lawns daily to see if the grass is growing, but it does grow and soon we come to realize it's time to mow the grass again. Likewise, we don't look at ourselves each day as mourners to see how we are healing. Yet we do come to realize, over the course of months and years, that we have come a long way. We have taken some important steps toward reconciliation.
Usually there is not one great moment of "arrival," but subtle changes and small advancements. It's helpful to have gratitude for even very small advancements. If you are beginning to taste your food again, be thankful. If you mustered the energy to meet your friend for lunch, be grateful. If you finally got a good night's sleep, rejoice.
Of course, you will take some steps backward from time to time, but that is to be expected. Keep believing in yourself. Set your intention to reconcile your grief and have hope that you can and will come to live and love again.
Guidelines for Reconciling the Loss
Movement toward healing can be exhausting. As difficult as it might be, seek out people who give you hope for your healing. Permitting yourself to have hope is central to achieving reconciliation.
Realistically, even though you have hope for your healing, you should not expect it to happen overnight. Many grieving people think that it should and, as a result, experience a loss of self-confidence and self-esteem that leaves them questioning their capacity to heal. If this is the situation for you, keep in mind that you are not alone.
You may find that a helpful procedure is to ask yourself questions. Am I expecting myself to heal more quickly than is humanly possible? Have I mistakenly given myself a specific deadline for when I should be "over" my grief? Recognize that you may be hindering your own healing by expecting too much of yourself. Take your healing one day at a time.
You can't control death or ignore your human need to mourn when it impacts your life. You do, however, have the choice to help yourself heal. Embracing the pain of your grief is probably one of the hardest jobs you will ever do. As you do this work, surround yourself with compassionate, loving people who are willing to "walk with" you.