Grief: A hero’s journey
We love to tell stories. It’s how we express what is happening in our lives. A hero’s journey is a monomyth that is common to all cultures. Tales in this form are common in our society from Bilbo Baggins, Luke Skywalker and Odysseus. In a hero’s journey, the hero goes on a quest to achieve a goal which involves overcoming obstacles and fears; finding allies and fighting foes.
What is the hero’s journey?
We all encounter many hero’s journeys as we pass through our lives. Times where we encounter our own struggles and setbacks: the loss of our first love; being made redundant; retiring; and the most profound of them all, the loss of a loved one. However, we persevered and grew in the process.
"How does this help me while I am suffering, in great pain, and grieving?" I hear you say. Stick with me as we explore the hero’s journey and see if we can learn anything from this most ubiquitous of stories.
Life is flowing normally. We feel in control and can almost predict how each day will unfold. We are comfortable in many ways, we are living in our normal mundane reality. However, this is all about to change!
There are many ways in which our mundane world gets disrupted. Some are dramatic! We get a phone call; knock on the door, and the people standing there are the police bearing bad news; or someone we didn’t want to see, maybe some test results from the hospital. Our world, in an instant, is turned upside down! This is a call to adventure.
In grief, the call is not normally welcomed! In some cases, it may be. However, in either case, your mundane world has ended. A cascade of emotions floods your world. Often, you can’t even sort out what you are feeling, totally overwhelmed or even numbed by the news. Often, this leads you to refuse to believe what has happened. This is a refusal of the call.
Refuse the call
In popular fiction, this is shown in Star Wars where Luke Skywalk refuses to join with Obi-Wan. Only upon discovery of the death of his family does Luke accept his journey.
Luckily your refusal is often less dramatic than fiction! It's more likely to be disbelief about what you have just been told or experienced. However, you do finally accept your life has just changed in a profound way and forever. You are now on an emotional roller-coaster, over which you have no control over.
Meeting guides and mentors
This leads you to find mentors and maybe guides. These are people who will help you on your journey. It is important that you seek help from others. The most powerful step you can take is to reach out for support. It is healthy and natural. There are aspects of our lives we can’t face alone. While your grief is unique to you and this loss, others have walked a similar path and will be able to help you in this wilderness of loss.
Draw on the experiences and encouragement of friends and family, fellow grievers or seek out a grief coach. These will form your team and are powerful allies. Armed with your support team, you are ready to start the work of grieving and mourning.
Crossing the first threshold
You have crossed the first threshold and are ready to start the work. It really is work and hard work at that! There will be times when you feel you can’t do it anymore. It requires effort to mourn and grieve well. But you don’t have to do it all at once or alone. There is a saying “Time heals all wounds”. Well, that isn’t totally true! You also have to encounter and battle with your darkest enemies and fears. Don’t worry with your mentors and guides supporting you, you will prevail.
Tests, allies and enemies
You will be tested, you will find allies and you will encounter people who aren’t supportive. There is a whole year of firsts to come. These are some of the most testing of times. Prepare for them, making plans about how you wish to experience them. This will give you space to grieve and mourn in a way that is meaningful for you. Let people know your plans. If you don’t want to spend Christmas, Hanukkah, Bodhi Day or any other social gathering, say that is your wish. People will understand.
When you reach out for support, you may find people appear to fall into three groups:
- Those who are indifferent to your loss.
- Those who are actively not supportive and dismissive of your need to talk about your loss.
- Those who are supportive and will listen to you.
Seek out the latter. It may surprise you which of your friends and family fall into each group. But remember not everyone is comfortable with loss, death and grieving. They have their own fears and phobias about death and loss. They may also be scared that they don’t know what to say or will make you feel worse.
Working through all of this is a major ordeal. It could be your dark night of the soul. This is where you need the most support and to be able to dig deep. Don’t take on too much too soon. Work through your grief piece by piece - you don’t have to face your ordeal alone or all at once. You may revisit the ordeal many times. Even time after you initially start your journey, the odd monster may raise its head for you to encounter and best!
This is personal to you and will be different to every loss you encounter in your life. For many, it will be the creation of a new relationship with their loved one. They will have moved from the physical world to one of memory. They have moved from the physical world to the world of the heart.
You will be able to bring them to mind and talk about the adventures you shared with a feeling of warmth. Maybe shed the odd tear, but it is no longer tears of despair but one of love and connection.
Return with elixir
As you exit your journey the world has changed; you have changed. You have grown in unexpected ways. You may carry a new scar on your heart, but you realise the love and joy that your loved one brought you has not died, but has been transformed. They enriched your life and you theirs. You are stronger and ready to move forward once more.