Counselor's Corner: Grief and loss

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Fred Cavaiani

It has been a painful week. The school killings at Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan, pushed all of us into a state of sadness and grief. The feelings of powerlessness can seem so overwhelming. It is like everyone is in a state of shock and grief. Our granddaughter is a sophomore there and thankfully escaped without harm. All of us have been traumatized by this tragic event. We have four teachers in our family.

Grief happens to everyone in life. But, when there are school killings like the one in Oxford, everyone becomes shaken. There is such a feeling of sadness and helplessness. Thankfully, social media is able to be empathic and understanding about the grief that is being felt by so many people right now.

Grief and loss become the intense reminders that we must always go deeper in life. The loss of four young people is beyond painful. This whole state has been emotionally wounded. The trauma that the students and teachers at Oxford High School are feeling can create an internal fear, paranoia and powerlessness. It reminds everyone that grief and loss can become part of our life.

But what does a person do when grief and loss happen? At first, we become numb with shock. Then we cry so deeply that our stomach seems to touch our backbone in pain. We then become angry because we want to run away from the pain and a part of us wants to do something to take away the pain. Anger becomes the defense so we don’t have to embrace our pain of hurt and helplessness.

I had a good talk with my wise granddaughter after this event happened. She was very open and honest about what had happened to her. I was so inspired by her ability and willingness to embrace her pain and fear. She has parents who listen and empathize. This is what everyone needs in life especially at times like this.

The only way to heal is to embrace the pain when it surfaces. I can only heal what I can allow myself to feel. This willingness to embrace my emotional pain forces me to go deeper within myself and then I begin to experience many other feelings of loss, sadness or grief that I may have avoided. Tragic events cause much pain. The paradoxical reaction to the trauma of death and loss of people we know is that we discover an inner depth within us that we never knew existed. This depth is experienced as I embrace the pain I am feeling. And when I share my pain with others, I start going deeper and the healing begins. When I avoid the pain that I need to feel, I will become a prisoner of grief and loss and the trauma keeps controlling me.

This tragic event is talked about over and over again on television. It challenges all of us to embrace our own personal experiences of grief and loss. It pushes us into facing helplessness. So often I want to shout at the television” “Enough, stop it. We don’t need to hear this anymore.” But then I begin to realize that these feelings that surface will bring me into a deeper awareness of life and how to cope.

Life is meant to have depth. Grief and loss push us into more depth and enable us to look deeper at life. In this embrace of pain and loss, I discover that I need a philosophy/theology of life that brings meaning into how I live in this present moment.

It never helps to avoid the pain that I am feeling. When I feel pain I must embrace it so I can increase my capacity to heal and live life in a deeper and more meaningful manner.

The students and teachers at Oxford High School will never be the same after last Tuesday. But each person will be able to live life with a depth that they never knew before. A tragedy like this challenges each of us to look at how we are embracing life. Events will unfold that we can’t control but we can be totally open to how it personally affected us. This willingness to feel and experience what happened, whether painful or joyful, will bring us into a deeper appreciation of life. This experience will bring us into a deeper connection with God. It will help us enter into a deeper relationship with others. And it will certainly bring us into a deeper relationship with ourself.

I am so impressed how well the community of Oxford has come together. This coming together in empathy and compassion teaches us how to embrace life. We are all on this journey together.

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Fred Cavaiani is a licensed marriage counselor and psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeast Michigan. His column in the Legal News runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 248-362-3340. His e-mail address is: Fredcavi@yahoo.com and his website is fredthecounselor.com.


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