Slang and colloquial language can be so rich and revealing. Let’s consider how we might describe ourselves in the midst of a profound loss—falling apart…shattered…going to pieces…collapsed…broken…shook up...destroyed...wrecked …lost…unhinged…crushed…torn up…crippled…breakdown…ruined…out of order…devastated…buckled…crazed…fractured…disorganized…a mess...cracked up…crushed…
Of course, these terms lack nuance in describing the particular struggles that come with a very difficult time filled with deep grief for each person, but they often capture how we collectively characterize our psyches when confronted with the dramatic and scary challenges of raw, life-changing events.
Verbal and Visual Poetry
Like them or not, all of these creative expressions are vivid efforts to communicate how overwhelming and excruciating our distress can be and how thoroughly it can interfere with “thinking and seeing straight.” It turns out they are, in fact, helpful in their poetry as we strive to depict the pervasive impact that extreme hardship has on our identities.
These expressions focus on that awful sense of going from being whole and intact to questioning our very sanity. They conjure images of physical structures that once were reliably sturdy and familiar but are no longer clearly recognizable and understood. As we endeavor to metabolize what is occurring, especially if the loss is sudden or violent, it is natural to go through an interval where it seems the world makes little or no sense. We lose our bearings as we strive to find ourselves in this unfamiliar space.
Many factors contribute to each individual’s unique depiction of anguish and therefore it’s vitally important to honor these variations. But it’s also well worth pointing out that there are commonalities in how the resulting chaos tends to be experienced and described across cultures and generations. These archetypal patterns offer a special kind of enduring solace, for while the bereaved often feel alone with their pain even when physically surrounded by loved ones, this shared language can be a source of comfort and strength when we’re at our most fragile.
I do believe it’s true that misery loves company, at least in this most basic, existential way. In addition, the universal connectivity in the language of the bereaved quite literally brings and holds us together. Its resonance gives us grounding and it helps to compensate for the gripping uncertainty that consumes us. When we describe this altered sense of self, along with the fluctuating feelings and sensations, to a caring other who then reflects them back, this compassionate validation can help to restore the fundamental sense of belonging and wholeness that is so sorely needed as we navigate the strangeness we face.
In our confusion and fear, we are tempted to rush and prioritize “getting a grip” and “pulling it together,” but what if, instead, we let ourselves surrender further to the unknowns, to be with the scrambled flow of our internal states? What if, rather than clenching around our distress, we open our hearts and minds wider? By giving ourselves this permission, we are able to slow down and gain awareness of what we really need in order to find our way through it all to acceptance and healing.
It’s often said that life is defined by change and impermanence, and this is truer than ever when we experience a great loss. Death is our biggest reminder that everything comes and goes. So, when we stop resisting the pain, and instead turn toward and are present for it, the meaning it holds can manifest and strengthen us. In time, and often it takes longer than we expect, we’re usually able to orient to the new version of our world. As we endeavor to accept and reconcile ourselves to the changes that once threatened our well-being, we incorporate the discoveries and lessons that came with the experience and encounter the grace, wisdom—and yes, even peace— that it holds.
If you’d like to explore additional resources and detailed guidance related to the loss of loved ones, especially pets, please visit here. And of course, we always welcome your insights and feedback here.Please note that this reflection is not intended to diagnose mental health symptoms and conditions. If you find yourself going through prolonged intense or complicated grief, and are still having trouble functioning and enjoying life after a long while, don’t hesitate to contact your health professional or pastoral care provider in order to find the care and guidance that suit you.