Grief is the price we pay for love

It feels like our world has stopped turning. Numbness takes over and bright blue skies lose their colour. In a room full of people, we can feel isolated and alone. The pain can be so painful that we don’t even feel it…until we do. Then when it comes knocking we feel it wholly and deeply. We might feel angry and ask why me? Sometimes we don’t believe this is really happening and deny it down to the ground. Maybe we fall deeply into depression and see no way out, possibly not even wanting a way out. We might wonder why nobody understands and why the world at large has continued to turn. Our very meaning for existing might be called into question. What is this common experience that is beyond race, geography or languages? Grief. Experienced by all at some time in life and very much in common in our humanity.

In general, loss is experienced by all people at one time or another, as there is suffering and grief in all human life. However, it is important to distinguish between loss, bereavement and grief. Loss can be defined as an event, over which a person has no control, that changes the person’s thinking and belief system, as something is removed from their life; whereas, bereavement is when a loved one, in which we have a connection and relationship with, passes away. Lastly, grief can be defined as the response to a loss or bereavement, which includes physical, emotional, behavioural and spiritual effects. In his 2014 research into these experiences, Michael Hall writes “…put simply, grief is the price we pay for love”. 

I teared up when reading that quote. It captures the depth of connection and emotion we experience when we have any type of relationship be it with another person or an animal and sometimes even with a place or job. The closer we become to someone or something, the more we attach and invest and the more intensely we feel when it is gone. When we love we can do it so fiercely, and from an inherently vulnerable place, that a loss of that connection can be devastating. It goes beyond hurt and pain to something that can be all encompassing.

Grief is a natural human reaction to bereavement that has noticeable symptoms along with behavioural and emotional responses. It is a common process following bereavement and loss but sometimes it can develop into complicated grief, this is a condition where grief is extended due to complications in the natural healing process. Alternatively, a person can experience anticipatory grief, which is complicated and layered if they are grieving in advance of a loss or bereavement that is certain to happen. This is also common if someone receives a health diagnoses in which they face their own mortality. There can be different kinds of loss and bereavement, not only the death of a loved one. Loss of a sense of self, a job, a pet, possessions, a relationship, a place through emigration and even a life not lived are just some examples of that, which can be experienced, and cause disruption in our lives.

In 1961, C.S Lewis wrote ‘A Grief Observed’ after he lost his wife to cancer. He said that “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.” I think this is very relatable all these years later, the experience of grief is one that alters who and how we are in relation to ourselves, others and the world around us. The loss of a loved one is one of the most intensely painful experiences any human being can suffer, and not only is it a painful experience, but also painful to witness, if only because others are so impotent to help. 

When I sit with clients who are experiencing grief or complicated grief, I often invite tears in moments when the client feels most in touch with their grief. This can be painful and challenging but nearly always leads to relief. It has been helpful to frame the tears as a testament to, and in honour of, the love that was felt in relation to the person, animal, place or thing. I have experienced it as helpful for clients when we explore the idea of the grief in relation to how much space it takes up in the person’s life. It can feel so overwhelming at the beginning and, although cliché, people might say things to be helpful such as “time heals all wounds”. This can seem unhelpful for the person experiencing the grief but it has an element of truth, time can support a feeling of distance from the initial bereavement or loss.

I like to frame it that the grief does not shrink over time. More so, a person’s life grows around it. The grief stays the same but new experiences, finding ways to cope, finding ways to remember a loved one and ‘moving on’ with life all add space around the grief. We can see this as true when we look at a picture or visit a grave, the pain hurts just as much as it did originally but we might also smile fondly or laugh about good memories and the joy and love experienced. Then we can muster the strength and courage to go about life without feeling like we are holding back tears indefinitely.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross wrote about the ‘Five Stages of Loss’ in 1969 as a way of understanding grief, bereavement and loss. Her theory became quite well known over time and most people now recognise the stages she proposed, which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. What may not be so well known as the stages is the fact that they are not linear stages. They can come in any order and any time in life, during the initial grieving or even years down the road when it has passed. Also, not everyone will experience all or many of the stages, grief is just as unique as we are as people.

Finding support in friends, family and your community can be helpful when grieving. However, if grief becomes a challenge, struggle or disruption in life, then psychotherapy and counselling can help. This is because it can provide a space and time dedicated to the person struggling in which they are accompanied in their experience by an objective mental health professional. To be witnessed, heard and seen can help to create a relationship between the client and the therapist that is safe for the client. It is in this relationship that the client can express what might feel un-expressible and be accompanied through their challenges towards healing. Christy Kenneally, a Cork man, writes succinctly in his book ‘Life After Loss: Helping the Bereaved’ on the goal of therapy for grieving clients, which could be said of all therapy, that “The more we operate from the centre of our natural feelings, the more real is our grieving and the healthier we will become as human beings.”

To live life and grow around grief is an act that can honour bereavement or loss not only in the present but always. To find the strength within to live in a world that might seem like it does not care about loss and pain is brave and takes determination so as not to feel like everyone around does not care; this can be supported through Psychotherapy and Counselling. As Irvin Yalom put’s it “…if one is to learn to live with the dead, one must first learn to live with the living”.

For more information on Leo’s services, 

phone: 085 1300573 



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Leo Muckley

Leo Muckley, MSc in Counselling and Psychotherapy, offers psychotherapy and counselling sessions in person in Glengarriff and Skibbereen, online and also by walk and talk. He is a member of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP).

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