One of the most heartbreaking questions grief counselors get asked is, "When does grief end?" The question has various incarnations: "When will this be over?" "How can I still feel this sad?" "When will my children stop asking me to be happy again?"
However the question manifests, it hits at some of the most painful and profound truths about grief. Grief is a long lasting and painful. Grief can be both cruel and poignant, relentless and gently nagging. Grief can be a powerful seductress: finally letting us feel as if we are doing better, and then slamming us down into a place of deep sadness again. Grief is "not fair", but if we expect grief to be an easy, step-wise, or rational process, we are bound to be on the pain train for awhile.
The reality of grief is that it is a process. It will have drastic ups and downs and ebbs and flows. Fredda Wasserman says that in grief, "your heart is not on a time schedule." The process of grieving is unique to each, and will take however long it will take as we seek to piece together heart and soul and find the means of moving back towards wholeness. Yes, we can move back towards wholeness, but it is a wholeness that is different than before our loss, and it is a wholeness which will come to embrace grief itself.
James Van Praagh is correct when he suggests that grief is the end of one thing and the beginning of another. The depth of the initial profound loss in grief cannot be erased from our heart's memory. The heart's memory will always grieve the loss of a loved one; though slowly, the initial sharpness of grief will transform itself into a deep strength. A retreat center I used to visit left a huge oak tree where it fell in the middle of a walking path, blocking it. Coming upon it, its massive root system was stunning. I could not help but stop to look. If I looked long enough, and with enough care, I could see the miracle at hand. The massive roots and grown around and embraced many smooth stones, large and small. The power of life itself surrounded these stones and made them inseparably one with the root. Even a chainsaw could not easily cut through these amazingly resilient roots.
Grief is like that. The power of our life itself can, and will grow around the sadness and the loss, and strength us, to our roots... our core. When our griefs become integrated with us, we experience the truth of Elizabeth Kubler Ross' words: "You will heal and you will rebuild yourselves around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same again. Nor should you be the same, nor should you want to."