For some reason, each time I see a rainbow, I think of the word ‘hope’. It’s a good word, and is a fine partner to optimism. We need hope, especially in times of suffering. I’m a good sufferer, too, so anytime I can latch on to hope, it’s a good thing. …Which is what I did on a cold and wet morning last week when I looked outside my bedroom window to see a beautiful, perfectly-arched rainbow. There it was: hope, in all its glory.
I needed that rainbow and its symbol, as the past six months have, at times, been difficult with too many funerals and oftentimes, too much grief. I know dying is the deal that comes with living, but still, when it happens, it can shake us to the core. This has led me to wonder: Where is hope and optimism amongst sadness and grief?’
We all know there is no formula for grief, no code of conduct, and sometimes no rhyme or reason for how we are affected. More than 15 years after the death of my friend’s father, he still mourns, and a lady told me recently that although her mum died four years ago, there are still times that she cries for her, and gets swept up in the loss all over again. My grandmother died more than 30 years ago and yet I still miss her: her warm hug, her loving heart, her strong hands.
Dr Russ Harris, psychotherapist and author of The Happiness Trap and The Reality Slap, and who has had his own share of grief says: “The painful feelings are often like a tidal wave: they rise up and bowl us over and carry us away, often before we are even aware of it. And, you may be surprised to hear this, but there’s a time and a place to let this happen: to let ourselves be engulfed by the waves.” (from The Reality Slap, p 108-109).
Although friends mean well, there is no consolation in platitudes such as: ‘Before the darkness comes the dawn’, ‘It was for the best’, ‘But at least he had a good innings’, ‘This too shall pass’, ‘At least she died doing what she loved’.
Tal Ben-Shahar, in his book, The Pursuit of Perfect, says of grief – a subject he has experienced first-hand after the love of his life was killed in a tragic accident: ‘It is impossible to describe the pain that follows the loss of someone we loved. The person left behind to mourn is often unable to contemplate the life without the deceased.’
In recalling that time Tal says the pain was unbearable – especially for the first eight months – and that it was so overwhelming he thought it would never end. In his shock and grief, he called a good friend who had lost his wife in tragic circumstances a few years prior, who said: ‘You’re going to hurt; it’s going to be hell; but you will survive it.’ His friend was right: he did survive, and he did slowly heal. With the tragedy now many years behind him, Tal says the key to moving on is to give oneself ‘permission to be human’, and know that from this experience it is possible to emerge stronger and more resilient. This is hope.
In times of grief and loss I lean heavily on hope, and search for it in the nooks and crannies of day-to-day life. Like these past few days, when I was awed by the splendour and grace of a passing kangaroo; when a toddler blew me a kiss; and when bagpipes played in the background of a friend’s funeral.
And then there was the rainbow.
Ben-Shahar, T. (2009) The Pursuit of Perfect, McGraw Hill
Harris, R. (2011), The Reality Slap, Exisle Publisihng
Linley, P.A. & Joseph, S. (eds), (2004) Positive Psychology in Practice, John Wiley.
Seligman, E.P. (1991), Learned Optimism, Random House