An interview with Rev. Julie Interrante, by Stephen Gilbert, former Hospice Chaplain & Bereavement Coordinator, Sacramento, California.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
Q: When I say the phrase, “Growing Through Grief,” what comes to your mind?
“Grief has become a very difficult emotion for us, especially in our American culture. We do so much to avoid loss and the grief that follows, that we have developed coping strategies that eventually turn into addictions. We have a lot of ways that we try to get away from our pain. There are the real common ones, like alcohol and drugs. But there’s food, computers, telephones, sex, movement; we do all kinds of things to stay away from a breaking heart.
We think grief shuts us down, but that’s because of what we do to cope with it – we numb ourselves to it. But this is exactly why we feel shut down by our grief. The truth is that our grief is calling us into fuller life. Our grief is asking us to feel and to know ourselves. When we think that we can’t tolerate it, we shut it down and then we blame the grief. But grief is not the problem. Our grief is actually asking us to be real.
Q: Asking us to be real… This is a very different way to look at grief. The way you talk about it makes it seem like there is a wisdom in the experience of grief.
“Absolutely. It’s the wisdom of our own soul. It is how we are designed. We are designed to feel, but we are always fighting our own nature. So that when I have a big loss, and my feelings start to come up, if I am not familiar with, or I’m uncomfortable with the experience of feeling these things, it is going to be really hard to trust that by feeling I will heal. If I will simply let myself feel what I feel in my grief, it will begin to change.
I think of this process like a thunderstorm. Maybe you’ve seen this, but before a thunderstorm or maybe a tornado, everything becomes still. Even the color of the air seems to change, and it is quiet. Then the storm hits, and its chaos. Yet after the storm, everything feels fresher. Everything feels new. There might be some things missing that were once there, but now have been removed. There may be things that I have to let go of, but there is a clear sense of new life. Something wonderful is going on. This is how we are with emotions.
So, if I have a deep sadness that needs to be expressed and felt, it is literally in the feeling of it that it starts to heal, it starts to transform. Once I allow myself to feel, I create space for myself to take my next step, whatever that is. And that is growing through grief: it is letting grief change me. I don’t control my grief or numb it, I let it change me.
I’ve known Steve Gilbert for over 30 years. He’s stood by my side through most of my life’s struggles, always being about 5 years ahead of me… just enough to be my mentor and guide. I’ve been able to be his strength and guide on occasion also. Our friendship is a rare gift. You can read more about Julie Interrante, the wise woman interviewed here on her website.