“The coming and going of the seasons give us more than the springtimes, summers, autumns, and winters of our lives. It reflects the coming and going of the circumstances of our lives like the glassy surface of a pond that shows our faces radiant with joy or contorted with pain.” ~Gary Zukav
As summer draws to a close here in Illinois, I note with sadness that the flowers in my garden are beginning to wither and die. Cooler days are coming, leaves are going to turn and then drop and before too long, winter will be here again. Each day, I note that something in my garden is a little bit different in color or texture. I notice subtle, almost imperceptible changes.
These changes are very different than the abrupt and traumatic loss experienced by survivors of suicide. Survivors are faced with shocking news that alters their world and shatters the foundation of life as they knew it. In the beginning, it is very difficult to process such abrupt, life-altering loss. Things seem surreal. We cannot believe our loved one has gone. We struggle, trying to absorb and make sense of what has happened.
Our brains are wired to store shocking information.
Most survivors store vivid memories of the moment in which they learned their loved one died. Years later, they can still tell you where they were standing, what they were doing, and who was with them at the exact moment the news arrived.
We are not wired, however, to note the very subtle changes that occur in and around us all the time. And for the most part, life is a series of continuous small changes. The paint on our walls, for example, grows imperceptibly darker and more worn each day, until at some point, after several years, we note it is time to repaint. Our freshly cleaned house grows messier and dirtier little by little until suddenly, we note it is time to clean again.
Little by little, things die down. On the flip side, most things come into existence slowly and sometimes, almost imperceptibly. The seed grows into a flower in incremental steps that are often not noticed until the bloom springs open.
The healing that survivors experience following the loss of their loved one is often not noticed.
it is a series of imperceptible changes, accomplishments, and triumphs. Many times survivors feel stuck. They don’t believe they are healing or moving forward. It is important for those who are further along to provide reassurance.
We can learn more about the grief journey from Elizabeth Harper Neeld.
The emotions and challenges faced by survivors on the journey are as varied as the colors in nature. Yet there are commonalities. Elizabeth Harper Neeld has done an extraordinary job of describing phases of the traumatic grief journey – from the original impact of the traumatic event to the eventual integration of the loss. You can find excerpts from her work on the Alliance of Hope website.
Those who check out Neeld’s work will note that she delineates identifiable phases and commonly shared experiences on the grief journey, but no timetable for grief. That is because there is no timetable for healing – and no right way or wrong way to grieve.
As we head into a new season, my thoughts are with our entire extraordinary, survivor community. Let us look to each other for understanding and support as we travel forward – remembering always, that kindness matters.