InsideMS, Winter 2002, Vol. 20, Issue 1
by Linda Noble Topf
We live a lifetime of goodbyes. We say goodbye to cherished people, to our younger bodies, to things, and even to ideas. In the past year I have bid adieu to being able to raise my right arm and touch my nose with my finger, and farewell to being able to twist open a jar. The purpose of this article is to help me say a good goodbye and to encourage myself (and you?) to do the very necessary mourning of each loss.
I will not leave you with, “It just takes time to mourn.” I know better. Not once will I say, “I know how you feel.” Not once will I say, “You should be grateful that you have had good years.”
Rather, I’ll say that we live in a society that doesn’t teach us to deal with loss. Mourning is misunderstood and neglected as part of the growth process. The process of moving through intense emotional pain is so private in our culture that most of us have little understanding of how to face it. People hide their mourning.
But grief is a normal, natural response to loss. Grief is a conflicting mass of emotions that we experience after any major change, not just following a death. We mourn loss when we divorce, break up, retire. We even mourn when we marry. As funny as it might sound, we mourn the loss of our pre-married life. Grieving occurs with each major change or loss in one’s life—it’s not something that happens once, and then is gotten over with.
The natural response to grief is a desire to recover. It hurts, and we want to be happy again. We attend support groups, we read pamphlets, we buy books, but they may not help us come to a successful conclusion.
At first our bodies and emotions numb themselves to the pain. Often our first words are “Oh, no!” or “This can’t be” or “This is not right.”
Then it’s common to be angry with whatever or whoever caused the loss. Often we turn the anger within and feel guilty about things we did or did not do. Then come tears, hurt, desolation, separation, isolation, and we fear that we may never love or be loved again. It is tempting to deny the pain of loss through overwork or drugs, or even the sheer force of will. When you open yourself to loss, waves of sadness, fear, and anger may surface.
The fact that you have read this far suggests that you are open to building a process of recovery. Recovery means dealing with your circumstances instead of allowing your circumstances to rob you of your happiness. Recovery is acknowledging that it is perfectly all right to feel bad from time to time, and to talk about those feelings, no matter how those around you react. Recovery is freedom.
For me, it begins by acknowledging the salient facts about my life now, in the immediate present. It is useful to record these facts in a notebook, on a tape recorder, or by sharing them with a close friend, caregiver, or advisor.
I mourn the loss of simple pleasures that I once took for granted. I can no longer get around, even in my own home, without the aid of my electric scooter. The two of us are an inseparable team. I am unable to walk barefoot on the beach or to dance. I mourn the loss of those pleasures.
I’ve learned it is important to let myself experience these painful feelings as they come up. It takes far more energy to push them away or hold them back than it takes to meet them head-on. Grieving, or good mourning, eventually lets me stop holding on to my perceptions about the way things ought to be. When I am finally able to let go, it is as if a door opens. I can turn my attention to what is. It is only in the present that any of us can experience the ecstasy of life. This is what living successfully with illness is all about.
Linda Noble Topf is an ordained minister and author of You Are Not Your
Illness, now in its second printing.
© 2002 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society