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Dark Night of the Soul: Navigating Grief from Loss and finding the gift that death left behind.

Fogs swallow the sun

Experiencing the dark night of the soul can leave one feeling isolated and overwhelmed, especially when it stems from grief due to loss. This profound emotional and spiritual crisis often results in a deep questioning of one's beliefs, values, and life purpose. Understanding this process can aid in personal healing and transformation. By undergoing the fire of pain suffered in grief we can potentially find the gift that death leaves behind, emerging stronger and more resilient, with a renewed sense of purpose and spiritual growth.

Origins of the Term

The term "Dark Night of the Soul" originated with the Spanish mystic and poet, St. John of the Cross. In his poem, he described a spiritual crisis that he experienced. He wrote about a time when he felt disconnected from God, and he described this period as a "dark night." This term was later adapted to describe the emotional and psychological distress that individuals experience during the grieving process.

Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul is a period of intense grief and despair. It's a time when we may feel a sense of emptiness and hopelessness, a disconnection from the world around us. It manifests during our darkest hours, leaving us feeling empty or numb, or wracked with pain and anxiety. We question our purpose in life, feel alone, isolated, tired and can suffer from insomnia. We can withdraw from our normal activities and social interactions, and although we all grieve differently, we feel it emotionally, psychologically and physically. For many, the grieving process involves a series of emotional, cognitive, functional, and behavioral responses that can be characterized as stages or phases. These may include an initial period of shock or denial, followed by acute emotional pain, and eventually a prolonged period of integration and resolution. There is no one model for grieving, and avoiding grief may mean avoiding the healing process.

What is grief?

Grief is a natural journey. Everyone experiences it after losing a loved one. While it may share some characteristics with depression, it is not a disorder. The painful emotions of grief are a result of the intense power of human connections, which do not dissipate in a moment when someone dies. The process of grief is how a person adjusts to the physical absence of someone they continue to have a psychological, spiritual and emotional relationship with. Even with differing spiritual or religious beliefs, most people experience the presence of their loved ones after death, and many have dreams of encountering their departed loved one. People feel a deep emotional connection and sense of presence from their loved ones as they live on in their hearts through memories, feelings of love and now through digital memorials.

Grief as a process rather than a state.

Psychiatrists and grief specialists Katherine Shear, MD, and Sidney Zisook, MD, describe grief as a series of emotional, cognitive, functional, and behavioral responses to death or other forms of loss, such as loss of opportunities or functional abilities. They emphasize that grief is a process rather than a state. Although there is no one way to grieve, most people experience broad stages. These include an initial period of shock or denial, a period of intense emotional pain, and a period of integrated or prolonged grief. The severity of the acute grief period and whether someone experiences prolonged grief depends on several factors, including whether they can find meaning in the loss or reconstruct a sense of purpose afterward. Many people have developed stage or process models to explore the way people move through grief, although most clinicians agree that everyone grieves differently. For many people, religious belief provides a primary source of meaning, especially in matters related to death. Others find meaning by reflecting on what a loved one accomplished in life or whether they found peace at the end of it.

What are the symptoms?

Some people might experience a sense of detachment or numbness in the initial stages of grief, while others might feel intense emotions like anger, guilt, anxiety, or sadness. In some cases, these symptoms can persist for long periods, indicating complicated grief, which requires additional intervention beyond grief counseling. Physical symptoms may include headaches, digestive problems, sleep problems, fatigue, and changes in appetite. These symptoms are often caused by severe emotional stress that disrupts the body’s natural healing processes. Bereavement counselors can evaluate grief symptoms to determine whether they are normal or unhealthy (suicidal thoughts, a prolonged sense of detachment, or self harming behaviors) and provide the necessary support and guidance to help people move through the grieving process. There is always help.

The different types of grief

Recent advancements in the field have led to a better understanding of the different types of grief. Anticipatory mourning is one such type, occurring before a loss and allowing individuals and loved ones to reflect on unfinished business and express feelings before it is too late. Working with guides in the conscious dying field/ spiritual guides/ death midwives, even an understanding doctor, can help one prepare to embrace death as a way of life.

Normal grief, on the other hand, encompasses a wide range of reactions to loss, including inhibited, masked, and delayed grief. These forms of grief are healthy as long as individuals can eventually express their authentic feelings and learn to live with their loss. There are ways to mourn that are discussed by Harvard Psychology professor – J. William Worden, his theory is based on the idea that people need to preserve their connection with loved ones who have died while moving forward in their lives.

Secondary loss refers to additional losses that occur after a death, such as loss of income, social support, or identity. There is also Shadowloss which refers to the change in someone’s social network, community and overall well being when their loved one dies and the connection to those aspects seem to dissolve.

Complicated grief disorder, also known as prolonged grief disorder, involves persistent and severe emotional reactions to certain kinds of loss, including anger, numbness, yearning, and a sense of life’s meaninglessness. Chronic and prolonged grief can last for years and can require specialized mental health treatment, often arising from traumatic loss.

Absent grief and cumulative grief are also types of grief, with the former referring to a prolonged state of denial, while the latter occurs when an individual suffers multiple losses in a short period. Disenfranchised grief is another type of grief that occurs when a loss is not acknowledged by society, leaving individuals to grieve alone. This type of grief is often experienced by those who have suffered losses that are not understood or recognized by others, such as gay men who lost partners to AIDS in the 1980s or women who have experienced miscarriages or abortions. Overall, understanding the different types of grief can help counselors tailor their responses and interventions to best support individuals and their unique experiences.

Because we all go through great sorrows, not only the sorrow of death, the sorrow of loneliness, the sorrow of isolation, the pain of being something or other, not beautiful and so on, all the trivialities and all the grave issues of life. We all suffer, moderately, superficially or deeply. And without becoming cynical, without verbally, reasonably, rationally explaining it away, is it possible when one is in deep sorrow, the sorrow that comes about when one has lost somebody, the sorrow of the whole misery of life, can one look at it in the sense remain with it without any movement of thought?

“The Collected Works of J. Krishnamurti, 1962-1963: A Psychological Revolution” by Jiddu Krishnamurti

The Importance and necessity and unavoidable purpose of grieving.

Grieving is an essential process that allows individuals to come to terms with their loss and eventually find a purpose filled way to move forward with their life. It is natural and healthy way to express and process emotions, and allows one to integrate into a new life.

There are many behavioral therapeutic techniques to help guide people through the dark night of the soul, tools that have been developed by psychologists, therapists, and doctors and they often run parallel to those techniques that are practiced in deep spiritual and religious rituals around death and mourning. They generally focus on four goals: Integrating the loss into an autobiographical memory, an altar, ritual or memorial of remembrance. Challenge negative generalizations about life and people, by believing in something with a higher purpose. Providing alternatives to anxious and depressive avoidance strategies that include engaging in natural environments, physical activities and inspiring a sense of wellbeing and meditation, and finally addresses the misinterpretations of grief reactions and false beliefs about loss through study and social groups in similar situations, and finding a greater meaning to our existence.

Finding the gift of death so we can fully embrace life.

During the dark night of the soul we are forced to confront our deepest fears and insecurities; this scary and uncomfortable process thrown up by trauma from loss, or grief about great changes and death, can also become incredibly liberating. By facing the fears and undergoing the process of grief we can emerge stronger and more resilient than before.

Changes in the way we view death before it strikes our heart helps us embrace the fact that death gives us life and life gives us death – the two things are one. By being forced to confront the reality of death we are made to consider what really matters in life, and in turn help clarify our goals to make meaningful changes in our lives.

What do we want to be remembered for? What are our real passions that bring us joy, what are our dreams, and now when faced with devastating loss, what else is there to lose by going after your dreams with renewed vigor?

Death can help us find meaning to our suffering. When we experience loss, it can be tempting to feel our pain is meaningless, but honoring our loved one and using our grief to help others, gives great purpose and meaning to suffering, and has been shown by great leaders of faith. When we think about the ultimate active and passive purification of the senses and the spirit, it comes from undergoing suffering in its most extreme forms, which in turn leads to the mystical union- the gift that death leaves behind.









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