I once had a therapist friend who told me that all my life experiences, especially those difficult ones, would benefit my clients; these experiences would allow me to have a deeper sense of empathy and compassion for those I work with. I feel that the reverse is true as well. All my experiences with my clients and and hearing the many stories from my clients has given me understanding of my own life and allowed my to gain new perspectives and understandings about we humans.
My grandfather passed away recently and so begins the ever uncertain grieving process for many in my family. Grief is such a funny thing and oh how I wish sometimes that grief came with some form of manual or guide. I have watched many in my professional work and personal world walk through the hills and valleys of grief, no two individuals experiencing it the same. All they had in common was the need to grieve the loss of a loved one.
Once grief occurs, it is a forever-occurring experience. There is no right way to grieve, no wrong way to grieve, and no end to grief. Sometimes, as human beings, we try to quantify grieve, deciding that after a year, it should be over or somehow different. We try to determine how it should look or what “moving on” means. The truth is, grief takes a path all on its own. The only certainty is that grief will continue to change throughout time. It visits us with intense emotions and feelings of pain, and other times brings up fond memories. Sometimes grief leaves us for a while, though always to return.
And why does it to this? Why is the path so unknown?
I’m not sure I know all the answers to this. Thank goodness for that. However, as I was working with on individual who lost her husband, I realized from my CBT and neurobiology training, that maybe I knew something about it after all. First of all, all behaviors create neuropathways in our brain. The more practiced our behaviors are, the stronger our neuropathways are for that behavior. Love involves so many behaviors and I believe after years of loving someone, the grooves of these neuropathways are extremely deep. These love behaviors become second nature, without thought. When someone we love leaves us, our brain continues to fire these neuropathways of love, yet the person is no longer available as a recipient of our love behaviors. This is when love turns to grief. That means if my thoughts are true, grief is really just our love continuing. This is why it never goes away completely, nor do we want it to. Our grief is love for the person who we will still continue to love as long as we are around to do it.
So, as my family and I grieve together in the coming days, the truth is, all we really are doing is continuing to love my grandfather. I am grateful for the job that I have and the many clients I have had who taught me that grief, though difficult, can be a beautiful experience in the behavior of love.