If we mourn a loss, we can move on. If we get stuck in anger, it will fester
hat’s a good life? Some would say that it’s a purpose-driven existence, one in which daily activities are imbued with meaning, driven by the aspiration to make oneself a better person and this world a better place. The service of Hashem and the investment of one’s self in acts of kindness can leave a person feeling fulfilled and joyful. Hardships are taken in stride, subsumed in the larger picture of a life lived with focus and intention. But some people get stuck in the past.
If Not for You...
“If not for you, my life would be perfect....” So says Yael to her husband. “We should never have gotten married.”
Lots of people experience a similar sentiment, regretting the decision they made so long ago. It took years for Yael to realize that her husband was never going to be the man she wanted him to be, but once she figured it out, she became bitter. “I can’t respect him, and it eats me up that this is my life now. I feel trapped.”
Unfortunately for Yael’s husband, she reminds him of her disappointment in him on a regular basis. Unfortunately for Yael, she reminds herself of her disappointment on a regular basis, too. Her disappointment sucks the energy out of her marriage and her personal life.
Yael has experienced a deep loss — the loss of her ideal partner. Her husband is not the man of her dreams, and having finally acknowledged this truth, she’s in pain.
In order to recover from loss, one needs to fully mourn. This involves feeling the pain and recognizing what has been lost. It hurts, but when done fully, it allows the pain to move out of the heart and leaves room for more joy and positivity.
However, mourning is not always an easy or straightforward process. There are numerous pitfalls and many people fall deeply into them. Our brains can get in the way of mourning. We entertain thoughts such as, “It isn’t fair,” “This shouldn’t have happened,” “Why me and nobody else?” “My life is over; there’s nothing to live for now,” and so on. We rebel against the tragedy that we’ve been dealt. We resist the reality. We get mad at Hashem or leave Him out of our calculations altogether.
Of course, this angry stage has been described as one of the normal phases of healthy mourning. It occurs at any point in the journey once we experience a loss (the “experience” of loss can occur either through a current incident such as death or through the realization that one will never get what one deeply desired).
The trouble is that not everyone moves through this stage successfully; many get stuck there. This is especially true when the loss appears to be something that can be restored.
“My wife is furious we ended up in America. We’ve raised all our kids here and they have families here and I’m supporting all of us here through my work. Yet my wife still blames me for taking her away from her family and her country.”
When it seems that there’s no barrier to restoring the loss, people may not go through the stage of mourning called “acceptance.” They feel they don’t need to accept it. They think, “I have a right to be happy.”
These aren’t the people who will actually take steps to restore a loss (like going back to school, leaving a marriage, adopting a child, and so on). Rather this is the group that will, instead of mourning a loss, choose to bemoan it forever. The endless rumination about the loss makes it impossible for such people to create a satisfactory, meaningful, and joyful life in the present.
Deep disappointment and loss are hard facts of life. They exist alongside our blessings. It’s essential for every person to acquire the skill of mourning in order to make space for living. In addition, those with tendencies to ruminate will benefit from learning techniques that facilitate a positive focus (mindfulness training, for instance).
In fact, even making a commitment to pivot away from negative thoughts that arise in the course of a day can help enormously. This always has to be done in conjunction with allowing a daily focused time for attending to any issue that is causing stress. Finally, professional help can often help one loosen the grip of a brain that doesn’t want to let go.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 678)
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