Behind The Veil Of Grief

behind the veil of grief

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.” ― Leo Tolstoy

Key Points: 
- Grief can be all-encompassing, especially the loss of a partner and confidant.
- Accepting the finality of a loss can make us feel powerless, but it's an essential aspect of grieving. 
- It can be difficult to know what to say or do to comfort someone who is grieving, but often just being there for them is enough.

Emotional states are often mixed. You are happy to see an old friend, yet there is a note of melancholy or sadness: Your friend is no longer the young person she used to be, and neither are you. Or you are excited to visit a new city, but you are worried about the weather forecast.

But some states are as pure as they are all-encompassing. They take over the heart and mind like a powerful storm, and the body must either yield to them or go on functioning on autopilot without much help from the mind, like a somnambulist. One walks but doesn’t see where one is going or eats but cannot taste the food.

One such emotional state is grief. Grief may, interestingly, make the ordinarily fragmented self whole. It can, like invisible glue, hold all the pieces in place as it permeates every fiber of our being. It is as though the grieving person is “held together” by pain.

Related: The Five Stages Of Grief: Exploring The Kübler-Ross Model

It may seem too that grief is not inside us, for it is too immense to be contained in such a small vessel as a single person; rather, we are in it. It envelopes us like a cloud and separates us from the rest of the world.

We may welcome that separation, for the world seems suddenly hostile when we grieve, laced by an unbearable absence. The person we have lost is missing not only from this or that place in the world—as he or she may be when traveling, say—but from everywhere.

While grief is often all-encompassing, however, it is by no means simple. It may have various distinct elements, depending on its object—friend, spouse, parent, or child.

It is difficult in a particular way to lose a soulmate and confidant, as that may be the person we talk to about every loss we suffer. The loss of a soulmate is thus like a disease that takes away not only your health but its own remedy. The one person who may have helped you get over the deceased’s death is deceased.

However, a loss experienced as wrong and unnatural such as the loss of a child — who is in general expected to outlive a parent — may be more difficult to deal with still and one may grieve longer than in any other case.

Grief Leaves Us Powerless.

One aspect common to most of the grief’s permutations, I believe, is powerlessness. Powerlessness can be difficult to accept. Sometimes, people do not allow themselves to grieve and, instead, opt to suppress the pain precisely because they reject their own powerlessness in the face of loss. While most of us go through a phase of denial during which we keep expecting to see the deceased again, hoping against hope that it was all a nightmare that would somehow end, some deny not the loss itself but what that loss has done to them.

Those who do not engage in this second type of denial have to grapple with their own powerlessness, with the fact that there is not much one can do about a great loss. Action, in general, can be thought of as an outlet for motivation. Acting helps restore our emotional balance. You feel restless, so you go out and take a walk. You are bored, so you find a new project.

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Iskra Fileva Ph.D.

Iskra Fileva, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In her academic work, she specializes in moral psychology and issues at the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and psychiatry. The focus of her current research is on the connections and tensions between conscious and unconscious motivation, the nature of moral emotions, and the boundary between bad character and personality disorders. She is, however, interested in all things human: how and what we remember, how we achieve intimacy, what makes some people good at relating to others, why we misunderstand each other, why we fear death, whether adults understand a child's mind, and many others. She enjoys writing for a non-academic audience and has previously written for The New York Times.View Author posts