The Courage to Grieve: by Maura A. Matarese, M.A. LMHC, R.Y.T.

"Some day I'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me" - Somewhere Over the Rainbow


“That Stunk” my father, a widower now five years as I write this said, after we watched episode two, season three of the Starz television series Outlander. In case you aren’t familiar with the series or books, here’s the bare bones of the story.

A world war II nurse named Claire Randall, reunites with her husband Frank Randall after the war ends and they take a second honeymoon in Scotland. When visiting the countryside, they accidentally witness a pagan dance ritual around a set of stones that resemble the prehistoric English monument, Stonehenge.  Mesmerized by the ritual, Claire decides to return to the site the next day and when she touches one of the stones, she’s transported two hundred years back in time.  While relentlessly trying to get back to 1945, she meets Jamie Fraisier, a Jacobite soldier who offers her shelter.  The two end up falling in love (though she resists this for a long time as she longs to go home) and they develop a shared mission to stop the Jacobite rebellion and infamous battle of Culloden, where close to two thousand Scotland highlanders died. Claire, who is from the future knows what happened on the fateful day of April 16, 1746. She hopes that she and Jamie can somehow change history and spare thousands of lives.  When they realize they can’t, Jamie, who believes his fate is to die on the battlefield, sends Claire, who is now pregnant with their child, back through the stones to the future so that she can reunite with Frank.  She does this and she and Frank raise her and Jamie’s child.  Jamie however, did not die on the battlefield that day, though Claire believes he did.  

This episode, appropriately called “surrender” captures the process of grief that both Claire and Jamie experience as they try to readjust to life without the other and it was hard to watch.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross along with David Kessler have written extensively on grief and grieving, outline five stages of the process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, though the stages are seldom linear and many get touched upon and then revisited.  It takes courage to surrender to the process and time to go through it. What my dad sad at the end of that episode was right though- it stinks!

Endings are a part of life. Whether someone dies or chooses to leave a relationship, surrendering to the grieving process is, in my view, one of the hardest things we will ever have to do. Many drink to avoid it, or sleep, or  shop, or eat or smoke pot or do drugs or overworking or engage in excessive sex or exercise to escape the pain.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if grieving were a simple as wishing upon a star and waking up where the clouds are far behind ? Unfortunately, it’s not.

There is, however, a gentler way to surrender to the grief and it take courage to do this.

What if you took some time each day, to close your eyes, follow your breath and notice the sensations in your body.  What if you tapped into your inner reservoir of self compassion and extended it to the various parts of you that may be feeling angry,  sad, lost, lonely or wishing and wanting things to be different than what they are?  What if you honored those parts of you, listened to it’s cry and allowed it to just be whatever it is, for as long as it needs to be? While not fun, being in this kind of relationship with your pain will help it dissipate in an organic way.

Watching Jamie and Claire grieve each other was heartbreaking. Yet they were able to make new meaning out of their separate lives once they did.  Since this is however, an epic romance series, they do eventually find each other again, as sometimes in real life, people do. Regardless, endings always lead to new beginnings one way or the other, as it’s part of the cycle of life.  Eugene O'Neill’s play The Great God Brown describes this perfectly with the verse “ Always spring comes again baring life. Always again. Always, always forever again. Spring again, life again, summer and fall and death and peace again.”  

Sometimes the cycle of life, whether it be the life of a person or the life of a relationship, gets interrupted long before it should. With a lot of love, patience, time and compassion, spring and new life will come again.