Part IV: The Tortoise, The Hare and Grief
In Part III of this four-blog series on what we can learn about grief from Aesop‘s fable of The Tortoise and the Hare. We recognized the difficulty of adjusting through grief and the power of our heart when adjusting to a loss.
- Our heart is immensely powerful, but it responds slowly to change. It needs time to adapt and heal.
- When grieving loss, balancing the needs of daily, practical requirements and erratic, powerful emotions can be exhausting.
- Our desire for relief is often immediate but healthy growth is slow and gradual.
- This difference between the pace of head and heart often creates an imbalanced feeling for the bereaved, and that imbalance can sometimes overwhelm.
“The Hare was soon far out of sight, and to make the Tortoise feel very deeply how ridiculous it was for him to try a race with a Hare, he lay down beside the course to take a nap. The Tortoise meanwhile kept going slowly but steadily, and, after a time, passed the place where the Hare was sleeping. But the Hare slept on very peacefully; and when at last he did wake up the Tortoise was near the goal. The Hare now ran his swiftest, but he could not overtake the Tortoise in time.” (Aesop)
The difference between head and heart is very real, and when grieving, that difference becomes very apparent.
The impact of dramatic change in our life due to loss accelerates the pace of our mind even faster than usual, as we try to make sense of our new role and expectations.
Meanwhile, our heart slows even more as it wrestles with uncertainty and very intense emotions whirling inside us.
This gap between head and heart is often one of the most challenging experiences of the grief journey.
The UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center’s website The Widowed Parent provides a short, helpful video nicely explaining this challenge through Stroebe and Schut’s, Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement.
We sometimes so desperately try to push the speed of our hearts to keep pace with our minds. We want to accelerate our pace of grieving. Our minds quickly identify a goal where it wants us to be, like the Hare and the finish line, and it begins advancing to meet it.
That space is often where a person finds themselves while grieving loss.
It’s marked by the many familiar signs of emotional volatility, sadness, dismay and disillusion, apathy…and the list long continues. It is a time of great challenge because the practical reality of time continues to bound forward while the reality of grief requires a slow, patient, pace.
The amount of energy required in this space can be taxing.
The strong emotions of grief can draw much physical energy. Disciplines are necessary to prevent one from pursuing avoidance tendencies. Confidence is required to face, and embrace, difficult memories. The steady expense of focus and energy can sometimes cause one to resist, escape, or want to ‘give up.’
Once we recognize the nature of our heart and honor its ability, we open ourselves to renewed spirit, energy, and boundless possibility.
We allow the opportunity to honor our condition.
We tolerate our sense of confusion.
We embrace necessary closure to the darkest chambers of our loss.
We step forward to reconcile the conflict.
We feel the relief of forgiven wrongdoings.
We celebrate with renewed purpose and meaning in our life.
These are all necessary duties of healthy grieving performed by the heart, abandoned when we choose only the hasty pursuit of surface-level, cognitive normalcy.
It seems the lesson the tortoise delivered us may have been much deeper than simply succeeding in a race. In his wisdom, he may have offered valuable insight to help us during one of the hardest times in our lives: grieving the loss of a loved one.
Healing through grief is a matter of both the mind and the heart, and each plays a critical role in healing after loss. One is charged with managing the functional needs of our life while the other works to stabilize and nurture fulfillment.
When their pace is shared, they afford a great capacity to fill us with joy and contentment.
Mind-heart alignment aids in discovering a clear and powerful meaning in one’s life ahead.
The results better enable one to weaken the pains of loss and fears of the unknown.
It provides the confidence to carry the love and memory of a loved one while creating capacity in one’s heart for more.
It provides a solid foundation to proudly live in balance, harmony, and contentment.
Honor your Heart
Respect it. Care for it and attend to it. Exercise patience through your grief. Work to find times of stillness and quiet and strengthen your ability to hold yourself in that space. It may take some practice but persist with it.
- Offer your heart patience, attentiveness, stillness, compassion, and gentleness.
- Share it with someone who will honorably witness it.
- Trust it to lead find light for you when you are faced with darkness.
Nurture your Mind
- Prioritize health and wellness and commit intention to heal deeply through grief.
- Study the nature of grief and apply it healthily to your own unique situation.
- Share with others your story of grief and learn from theirs too.
Lastly, try to surround yourself with good people who will appreciate you and honor your experience with you.
You may be amazed how your life can transform into beauty through the darkest depths of grief, and how, like the tortoise, you too, will wear the crown of a champion!