Overcoming grief or grief depression over a loss of a child, family member, serious illness such as cancer, or death of a pet is a difficult process. Whether the departure of a loved one is sudden, or has been anticipated over a period of time, we experience a powerful and complex range of emotions of grief - including disbelief, shock, anger, hatred, guilt, loss of faith, fear of the future, loneliness, regret. Going through this is a normal part of the grieving process and is necessary to reconcile ourselves in some way so that we can move on from the experience to become a better, stronger person with a greater sense of purpose in life as a result.
There is no doubt that time is an important component in reconciling and overcoming grief and loss. Eventually it is important to "Let go and let God" so that we can move on with life. Unfortunately, many feel they cannot do this, that they are unable to let go of the sadness that they are experiencing. The reason for this has to do with the mechanism of the subconscious mind.
The Influence Of The Subconscious Mind
Your mind has two parts, each with separate functions: there is the conscious part, which is 12% of our mind, and the subconscious part, which is the other 88%.
The conscious part is the one we readily identify with. It is our "doing, action state". It is what we use to perceive the world and to make decisions such as "I like this person!".
The subconscious mind stores our memory ("the last time I saw this person we had an argument!"), habits and beliefs ("every time I think of this person I feel sad!"), personality and self-image. It also controls our bodily functions - notice you don't have to consciously think about doing these things.
The subconscious mind retains a primitive mechanism, which records the "experience" of every situation you encounter. This is called "conditioning". If you either anticipate (think about) or actually experience that same situation again, those previous feelings will be re-experienced emotionally in the same form, either positively or negatively. This mechanism forms part of the way we learn.
Unexpressed Emotion Is Stored And Subconsciously Recalled
Basically we are aroused by only two sensations - pain and pleasure. We all want to avoid pain and pursue pleasure. The emotional cycle which leads to unresolved grief and possibly severe depression, begins in the present with our initial experience of pain, and ends with complex feelings which are "remembered" exclusively in the past. This cycle of emotions has been found by psychiatrists to follow this pattern:
- Pain in the present is experienced as hurt.
- Pain in the past is remembered as anger.
- Pain in the future is perceived as anxiety or fear.
- Unexpressed anger, redirected against yourself and held within, is experienced as guilt.
- The depletion of energy that occurs when anger is redirected inward creates depression.
In many cases these hurts which become "conditioned subconscious reflexes" are modified by our subsequent behaviour.
Let's consider how these ideas relate to the experience of overcoming grief and loss. Say for instance you have an argument with a friend. Later on that day their life is tragically ended in an unrelated accident. Of the many emotions that you may experience when hearing the news, the feeling of guilt arises about having the argument as part of your last encounter with someone you loved and who had always been a good friend. If not resolved, this emotion becomes linked or associated to your experience of the tragedy. Accordingly when you next discuss or think of the tragedy the feeling of guilt arises within you again. What is important to see is that these feelings arise subconsciously (you don't consciously ask for them to appear!) and are experienced in relationship to tragedy.
First, talk about your feelings to a sympathetic friend, counsellor or spiritual teacher. Pushing down emotions, not expressing them, having a "stiff upper lip", and not talking about events, goes a long way to causing stress - post traumatic stress.
Second, the way through your subconscious patterns is to learn how you can consciously control your emotions so that painful subconscious feelings and reactions can be neutralised, and new feelings of acceptance, forgiveness and love can be chosen.
In the Life Skills Seminar you learn how to resolve your feelings relating to an experience of loss and grief by understanding how the brain works and by practising the following skills:
- How to consciously relax and release stress any time anywhere.
- How to develop focused concentration.
- How to consciously develop feelings of acceptance, forgiveness and love.
- Developing a process of "letting go".
Mind/body exercises to neutralise "negative" subconscious reactions formed out of past relationships, and to program new, more empowering subconscious responses.
You May Ask "How Effective Are These Techniques?"
As you may know, three of my daughters were murdered by a crazed gunman in 1987. I f you would like to read about my journey of overcoming grief and loss, and how I used the techniques I now teach to others, I refer you to my two page article entitled "What moved me to do This Work". I also write about it in detail in my book "Switch On To Your Inner Strength".
Please read these letters from two of my seminar participants:
It is very hard to put into words exactly what your seminar has done for me. It has certainly been very profound and is still happening. The thing that really fascinates me is that the effect is not only on me, which I understand, but on people I deal with who have not attended your seminar, know nothing about it, and to whom I have certainly not said anything.
I must include some background to explain:
My husband, Don, and I met when we were both serving in the R.A.F. during WWII. I was 17½, and he was 21½. It was love at first sight. At first we thought that marriage was out of the question. We came from different countries, background, socio economic groups, religions, i.e. everything was against us. However after a few months we decided that life without each other was not worth living, and that we would overcome all the obstacles. We were married 13 months after we met. Don was English and when his overseas tour was over I was sent to England with him.
Since we got engaged we started investigating different religions and philosophies. Though neither of us was religious in the accepted sense we felt a strong need for a common 'belief'. The more we talked and read, the more we discovered that fundamentally all religions believe in the same thing: Love thy neighbour and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It was not until Don was at Uni (1946/7) that we entered into discussion with a friend of his and were introduced to the concept of a continuing Spirit, a life after 'death', E.S.P. etc. It all made immediate sense and followed rational thinking. All natural laws stipulate that nothing disappears. It may change but does not vanish. From that time on we became involved with meditation.
Don died 4½ years ago and my world fell apart. We had 49 years together, working, living, and all leisure time. It was an ideal marriage (that was my ration of heaven on earth!). During his last 2 years here, he was completely dependent on me, I was 'on call' 24 hours a day and was perfectly happy to be so. I really loved him unconditionally. When he died, even though I realised that for him it was the best, I fell apart and went into a deep clinical depression, and was quite unable to cope. I realised that I needed help and asked for it. I got it from counselling, friends and family, After about 3½ years I started to cope, I had lost my bitterness, but then I developed a guilt complex. It was as though I was being disloyal to him by being able to cope. It was this guilt which I was able to get rid of at your seminar.
Since then I have had a complete change of outlook on life. I have fully accepted that he is happier now and that I have a right to go on with my life as best I can. I have been much calmer and more settled. Yes, I still miss him and know that I always will, just as I shall never stop loving him. I have found my outlook to be much more positive. I have gained a measure of self worth which I have not had before. Be it imagination or a different perception of what people say to me, I am constantly being told things which reinforce and boost this worth. Recently I had occasion to go to a conference, and for the first time ever I made the first approach to people I did not know. For the first time I offered an opinion from the floor of a symposium. All this may not seem like much to some people, but after the last 4 years of being in hell (I have always believed that we experience our heaven and hell in this life), for me this is a giant step in the right direction. I guess you can help others because you have been there yourself. Thank you.
Name and address supplied
Sandy's Note: This wonderful participant has asked us to keep her name confidential. I'd like to add that at the seminar this lady announced that all she wanted to do was die - to be with her husband. Initially, she had her husband in her Peaceful Place. It was marvellous that during the meditations she 'let her husband go - let go and let God'. Of course a few tears were shed, and very soon after her father appeared in her Peaceful Place - this indicated to me that she truly had let go, and was now allowing others into her life. I'd really like to thank her for sharing such a personal and inspiring story!
I thought I would write you a letter about the most amazing experience I have just had. As you know it's been about 1½ years since I did your seminar and I regularly practise your meditation techniques. Recently while visiting relatives in NZ I found myself driving past a cemetery. I suddenly realised that this just wasn't any cemetery. It was where my father was buried. Realising that I would not be back here for quite some time I quickly slammed on the brakes to visit his graveside which would be only my second visit in 20 years. After a short search of the cemetery I found his tombstone and while reading the inscription was overcome with an incredible chill as the anniversary of his death was the next day - and I did not even know it!
I went back to the car in tears. I just knew this was a sign that something was happening here. Many people had told me that my father's death was still influencing me but I could never understand what they meant, nor could they clearly explain their meaning. My father died when I was seven - 21 years ago - how could I possibly understand the implications of that situation now? His death hadn't been an ordinary event and neither was my experience of it. I will give you some background which I hope will make that clearer.
When I was growing up I was one of those children who was continuously full of mischief. I always had the feeling of being "forever" in trouble as I created one drama after another. In response my father was my disciplinarian who had little hesitation in using his belt to curb my wayward behaviour.
On his last day we went deep sea diving with friends. As they prepared to dive I was sitting in the front cabin of the boat next to some oxygen tanks. All of a sudden the boat was tossed by a wave and listed. Another oxygen tank placed on the seat rolled against the one on which my hand was resting, crushing it! In intense pain I screamed, and my father rushed in to see what the problem was. Seeing me in pain he comforted me and said "If you don't want me to go diving I won't. I'll stay here with you and look after you - but if you're OK I'll go". Feeling as though I needed to be a brave little trooper I said "No dad, it's OK - you go. I'll be fine - you can go" and so he did. He finished putting on his diving gear, hopped over the side of the boat and that was the last I ever saw of him.
I really don't know how as a 7 year old kid I dealt with that situation. No one knew about that final conversation between my father and I. My guess is of the many things I may have felt at that time, I think part of me felt responsible for what happened. I was in trouble again! This time I had done the worst thing imaginable. I had facilitated my own father's death! This was in part confirmed many years later by my mother who thought it a bit strange that after the day my father went missing all I did was play nonstop with my toys not saying a word. I guess I must have been feeling incredibly guiltily, holding onto the worst secret imaginable, too afraid to speak for fear of the consequences.
I remember only crying once during that time, and that was as the coffin went past during the funeral service. After this, that secret too was buried, like him, inside me.
We never spoke about his death. I never thought about him again. My mother had previously had bad experiences with my father's side of the family. They lived in the southern part of the country and I never really had any contact with them either after that. Even today I don't know who they are. I had only visited his graveside once, 11 years after the event, while at the funeral of a friend.
Well, when confronted with all this I didn't know what to do. What can you do! I went home and looked through the family photo album and found a few pictures of him. When I looked at him I felt nothing. He had no meaning to me. I intuitively felt that this was wrong. When you think of your parents you should only feel love (despite everything that happens!) because they are the reason you come into this world. Your creation is an act of love. So I grabbed the only photo which was a positive image of him and I, and took it back to Australia with me.
Every morning I looked at it and I meditated and asked myself some questions. How was his death meant to help me? How was I supposed to become a better person because of the tragedy? I did this every morning for 2 weeks. I guess through this process I was opening myself up to receive some sort of answer from either my subconscious or God knows where else. I also remember from the seminar that the question you ask yourself is important - "Ask the wrong question and you'll get the wrong answer" - like "Why me? What did I do to deserve this?"
Then one day while walking to work I was suddenly overcome with emotion to the extent I could no longer stand (20 years of repressed emotion was on its way out!). My head began to fill with this vision of him. There he was in my mind, an angel in heaven but as I looked into his face he was sad. Not because he was in heaven, (he was happy being there!) but sad that I had forgotten him. I also realised in that moment the significance of his death. It was the most selfless act of love, the greatest gift imaginable, because in his departure I became free to live my life the way I wanted to. Unfortunately some parents can unwittingly cast a shadow over their children through their desire to want the best for them, to the extent that the children develop a compulsion to live up to their parents' expectations because they want to be loved by them, instead of being true to their own talent and potential and living their own life. Without him here I would not to be concerned with that (as he was from all accounts quite dictatorial).
I believe parents are responsible for inculcating many influences into you. Fathers in particular I feel teach their sons many things such as social decorum, persistence, self discipline and how to be a "man". When you lose a parent and nobody else is fulfilling that role you must learn these things for yourself. Here lies an advantage. While other children are "given" these skills, upon losing a parent you must both discover these skills and learn them yourself. Although learning and teaching yourself these things may take longer for you to master, when you do, you have greater clarity about both their meaning and their use.
So that moment was a wonderful and significant turning point for me. A lot of my personal journey came into a clearer perspective and I felt a lot better about what happened and about me. I now have his photograph on my desk at work and I think of him and my mum everyday, knowing they are the reason I am here and the source of every great thing I've done and everything else I would like to achieve.
Thank you for your help Sandy, for giving me the tools to resolve this within me. I hope this letter is some source of encouragement to anyone else who has found themselves in the same position and that it gives them a few ideas as to what they can do.
V J Duckmanton NSW
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