I believe that if you understand the grief process, as well as relationship dynamics, AND how these two are related, you have a leg up on others about understanding life. Please allow me to take you through my thought process to see how I arrived at this conclusion.
First, let’s look at grief. Grief, in some form, is with you from the moment you’re born as you take the first steps toward your ultimate destination. In truth, life is actually a constant and natural progression of loss and subsequent rebirth. This is clearly reflected in nature by the endless change of seasons.
Loss takes many forms. You can experience giant losses all the way down to numerous little deaths, which are the ones experienced each day when, for example, you encounter negativity or momentary disappointment.
One common way loss is felt each year is at school graduation time. You may not have thought of this milestone as a loss and rebirth, but consider the following for a change in perspective.
Each year, school age children move from one grade to another. They leave well-loved teachers behind; friends might move away; and a transition to a new school may be encountered from elementary to middle school to high school and onto college. In these instances, each “goodbye” is a loss. However, on the other side, there is a rebirth, too. It comes in the form of a hello to a gain or a move into a new time and place in one’s life.
One factor that can determine how successful you will be in life is how well you’re able to handle the multitude of transitions experienced over the span of a lifetime. Responding thoughtfully to these changes, rather than reacting without forethought, can allow you to greet and pass through them with less tension and drama.
Next, let’s take a look at relationships. When I muse about the meaning of life, for me, it always comes down to my relationships, of which I have both personal and professional ones.
I ask you: in the end, will it really matter what size house I had, what kind of car I drove, or if I got to travel around the world? I think not.
Stephen Levine said it perfectly: “If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting?”
The old cliché, “home is where the heart is,” rings true for me. Just as my heart is at the center of my soul, I am at the center of my life. This is not an egocentric thought, for it’s a healthy ego that propels you to accomplish your goals. So, the relationship I have with myself is of utmost importance. It determines my perspective – how I see my personal world, as well as the world-at-large and those who inhabit it.
All my other relationships radiate out in concentric circles around this main orb. Each of us spends a lifetime working on them.
As each of you travel on the road of your life, people are constantly moving in and out of it. Loss is experienced, but also joy is found in the creation of new relationships or the success of already established ones.
Now, I’ve brought you in a full circle as I linked relationships and grief, or the cycle of life and death (or loss). This cycle is experienced through the relationships each person has with other persons and things and the understanding that each of them have a designated season to live.
There is a natural duality to the world that is reflected in paired opposites such as life and death, and in order to truly understand and appreciate either one, it’s necessary to experience both. It is the stark contrast between the “light” and “dark” times of your life that allows you to be grateful and appreciative of your relationships and all the other gifts that have been bestowed upon you.
The preceding is an excerpt from my book, Mastering the Art of Intimate Relationships: 60 Thoughtful Essays on Dating, Relationships, Life and Love, available here.