“All connections are infused with dreams of what is possible in the future. Thus, when we lose something or someone important to us, we aren’t just grieving the loss, we are grieving the shattered dream.”
~ Bill Crawford
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Grieving the Shattered Dream
As a psychologist and someone who has experienced loss firsthand (both of my parents died of cancer within about six months of each other when I was 21), I have come to understand that the natural, normal, healthy reaction to loss is grief. Unfortunately, our western culture doesn’t seem to see this way. Possibly, because of this lack of vision, or because grieving can be so intensely emotional, we try to avoid it and/or describe the feelings associated with the experience of grieving in rather pejorative terms. For example, we call it “breaking down, falling to pieces, losing it, becoming a basket case,” etc., and thus we find it hard to move through this process when we experience a loss.
I know that this was my experience when I lost my parents. Being a male raised in the piney woods of North East Texas, I thought that the way to deal with grief was to resist feeling anything, and so, when faced with the loss of my parents (and given that I was an only child in my family), I shut down and tried to feel nothing. Unfortunately, not only was I successful in this resistance, I received a lot of support for this position. People would come up to me and congratulate me for “doing so well” and “being so strong.” Little did they know that I had shut down altogether, and was just going through the motions.
Finally, after years of denial, I entered a master’s program in psychology that had the wisdom to insist that the students deal with their issues before they were let loose on the public. This requirement turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it allowed me to get in touch with these long-repressed emotions in a safe place with people that I trusted. As a result, I finally began open up and allow myself to feel the emotions that had been buried for so long, and a very strange thing happened.
For the first time in my life, it felt really, really good to feel really, really bad.
You see, when I had decided to feel no pain at the loss of my parents, I also had unwittingly shut off my connection to my love for them as well. Thus, when I was willing to open to the pain and allow it to be a reflection of my love, I was able to give the experience of grieving a sense of purpose and meaning. The tears became a testimony to my love for the two people who had given me life.
I also noticed that I was not only grieving the loss of my parents, but also what would never be. As I mentioned, I was only 21 at the time of their death, and was just beginning to reconnect with them after my “teenage independence” phase. Not only was that reconciliation cut short, but I realized that they would never see their grandchildren, never see me earn my Ph.D., and I would never have the opportunity to give to them as they had given to me.
This “Shattered Dream” concept (developed by Chicago psychologist, Ken Moses) has come to be a major component in my work with others who have experienced a loss. Whether grieving the loss of a relationship, a loved one, a job, a pet, or even just the discovery that what we thought was going to happen will never come to pass, what we are all grieving is a shattered dream. Plus, since the dream, or our vision of the future is always perfect, always about hope and what we see as possible, the resulting grief reflects this depth of this pain.
In an article on my website, I conclude this two-part discussion with another quote on grief, and some ideas about how to move through this process in a way that facilitates healing and wholeness. For now, however, I encourage you to think back about the losses in your life. Did any of them have a shattered dream attached? Did you find yourself resisting the feelings associated with the loss because you either didn’t want to feel that pain and/or you felt you had to be “strong” for those around you? If so, maybe now is the time to begin to reconsider our feelings in this area and discover whether there might be some reason that the experience of grief is so universally consistent . . . some wisdom in the way our body feels after a loss . . . some way to move through this process in a way that allows us to not only grieve the shattered dream, but to begin to create more purposeful dreams of the future.
Take care and God bless, Dr. Bill