Finding Meaning in Our Grief

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January 11, 2022

Finding Meaning in Our Grief

David Kessler January 11, 2022

David Kessler is widely considered the world’s foremost expert on grief and loss. He is the author of six books, including the new bestseller Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, and the founder of grief.com, which has more than five million visits annually from people in almost 170 countries. David has taught physicians, nurses, counselors, police, and first responders about the end of life, trauma, and grief. He facilitates talks, workshops, and retreats for those experiencing grief, and his experience with thousands of people on the edge of life and death has taught him secrets to living a happy and fulfilled life, even after tragedy.

In this podcast, Sounds True founder Tami Simon speaks with David Kessler about his new book, including how our relationships transcend death and how we can all continue to love and cherish those we’ve lost. They also discuss David’s friendship and work with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross; misconceptions about the five stages of grief; finding meaning as the sixth stage of grief; why all grief does not have trauma, but all trauma has grief; making the decision to participate in life after loss; the importance of telling our stories, and why our grief must be witnessed in order to be healed; creating a grief-literate society; why “what we avoid pursues us, what we face transforms us”; how our lost loved ones can move forward with us in life; being with and there for someone in grief; our “continuing bonds” with those we’ve lost, and how death can never end our relationships; and more.

David Kessler is widely considered the world’s foremost expert on grief and loss. He is the author of six books, including the new bestseller Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, and the founder of grief.com, which has more than five million visits annually from people in almost 170 countries. David has taught physicians, nurses, counselors, police, and first responders about the end of life, trauma, and grief. He facilitates talks, workshops, and retreats for those experiencing grief, and his experience with thousands of people on the edge of life and death has taught him secrets to living a happy and fulfilled life, even after tragedy.

Author photo © Kessler-David 2021

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Finding Meaning in Our Grief

David Kessler is widely considered the world’s foremost expert on grief and loss. He is the author of six books, including the new bestseller Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, and the founder of grief.com, which has more than five million visits annually from people in almost 170 countries. David has taught physicians, nurses, counselors, police, and first responders about the end of life, trauma, and grief. He facilitates talks, workshops, and retreats for those experiencing grief, and his experience with thousands of people on the edge of life and death has taught him secrets to living a happy and fulfilled life, even after tragedy.

In this podcast, Sounds True founder Tami Simon speaks with David Kessler about his new book, including how our relationships transcend death and how we can all continue to love and cherish those we’ve lost. They also discuss David’s friendship and work with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross; misconceptions about the five stages of grief; finding meaning as the sixth stage of grief; why all grief does not have trauma, but all trauma has grief; making the decision to participate in life after loss; the importance of telling our stories, and why our grief must be witnessed in order to be healed; creating a grief-literate society; why “what we avoid pursues us, what we face transforms us”; how our lost loved ones can move forward with us in life; being with and there for someone in grief; our “continuing bonds” with those we’ve lost, and how death can never end our relationships; and more.

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Self energy has a soothing effect on any parts it touches, whether they are in you or in another person. When your parts trust that you will speak for them, they feel less driven to take over and explode at people. What they really want is to have a voice—to be listened to by you and to have their position represented to others.

Practice: SELF-LEADERSHIP AS A WAY OF INTERACTING IN A CONFLICT

These practices—remaining the “I” in the storm or the empty vessel, and speaking for rather than from your parts—can be combined into a general way of relating as a couple when you have conflict. When you begin to fight, each of you can try the following:

  1. Pause
  2. Focus inside and find the parts that are triggered
  3. Ask those parts to relax and let you speak for them
  4. Tell your partner about what you found inside (speak for your parts), and
  5. Listen to your partner from your open-hearted Self

When a couple is embattled and each focuses inside, as in step 2, usually they only hear from their protectors. If it feels safe enough, moving an extra step toward vulnerability can reap big rewards. That step involves staying inside long enough to learn about the exiles that your protectors are guarding, and then telling your partner about these vulnerable parts. In most cases, when one partner has the courage to reveal the vulnerability that drives their protectiveness, the atmosphere immediately softens and the couple shifts toward Self-to-Self communication.

This is an excerpt from You Are the One You’ve Been Waiting For: Applying Internal Family Systems to Intimate Relationships by Richard C. Schwartz, PhD.

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Do you really know whether your partner understands wh...

Human communication, even on a good day, is really terrible. It really is. We misunderstand each other much of the time.

Do you really know whether your partner understands what you are saying? Does your partner get the nuances or understand the purpose of the words you are using? Do you think they know exactly how you feel about your words or the meaning of the words? When you’re listening to someone, do you think you really understand them? Do you understand their mind? Their context? More often than not, you are approximating each other. You’re getting close.

Most of our communication is implicit, nonverbal. Our verbal communication, which we all love and adore and depend on, is really the culprit. It gets us into a lot of trouble.

When you were dating, I’m sure you were much more careful about the words you used. How careful are you now? Many couples grow sloppy with each other in terms of their verbal communication. They take shortcuts because they think they know each other.

You’re probably taking a lot of shortcuts, assuming your partner understands the meaning of your words, and you’re getting into trouble. Do you even have each other’s attention when you are communicating? Many times, you don’t. You both are busy, you are moving, and your lives are only getting busier. And then you find yourselves saying, as many couples do, “Oh, it’s my partner’s problem. They’re not listening.” Right?

When it comes to communication, you both must take responsibility for making sure that your speech is clear and understood by the other person. As you will read in this section, just because you say something, doesn’t mean your partner is translating it as you intend.

Here’s an example:

Partner A: I want more intimacy in our relationship.

Partner B: I want that, too!

The problem here is that to Partner A intimacy means “more sex.” Partner B, on the other hand, thinks that agreeing to intimacy will mean more interpersonal talk. What is more is that sex actually means “only intercourse,” and interpersonal talk specifically means “more questions about how I’m doing.” That is how we talk to each other—as if the other person knows exactly what we mean. Much of the time, we don’t even know exactly what we mean.

Remember the good old days (of course you don’t) when speech was simpler? We would just say, “Duck!” or “Eat!” or “Sleep!” or “Run!” or “Lion!” Fast forward to today’s linguistic complexities and consider for a moment all the nuances in our talk, all the lingo, all the changing meanings for regular words. Take the word sick, for example. Today it could mean physically ill, mentally ill, disgusting, or amazing. And the language couples use with each other can seem even more confusing. “I want to know you deeply” could mean many different things. “I want you to show me your soul” could make a person’s head spin. “I want you to say what you really feel” can, for some, seem like a trick or an insurmountable task. We use a great many words and phrases that mean a great many things, none of which partners clarify with each other. This is a terrific error.

The human brain is always trying to conserve energy; it does as little as possible until it must. Most people, particularly partners, will treat clarification as unnecessary and, in fact, frustrating. “You should know what I mean,” a partner might say. “My meaning is obvious.” Or, “Everyone knows what that means.” Both speaker and listener feel persecuted by the chasm between meaning and understanding. Minds misattune, which leads to heightened arousal (faster heartbeat, higher blood pressure), which leads to threat perception, which leads to fight, flight, or freeze.

Rinse and repeat.

Check and Recheck
This common and frankly annoying error is easily avoidable by returning to the formality likely present at the beginning of the relationship. Check in with simple, nonthreatening questions or requests:

  • “Are you saying . . . ?”
  • “I want your eyes because this is important . . .”
  • “Let me make sure I understand . . .”
  • “Say back what you heard . . .”
  • “Let me repeat that.”
  • “What do you think I meant by . . . ?”
  • “We may not be talking about the same thing. Are you saying . . . ?”

Checking and rechecking is vital to daily governance and the proper running of a two-person system. If you were two astronauts communicating out in space while tethered to the mothership, would you be incredibly careful with your communication? You bet you would. Your lives would be at stake. If you were two generals deciding a war plan, would you talk in shorthand or assume you were on the same page? If you did, people would die. You are no different. If you and your partner continue to use shoddy communication to share information, your relationship will suffer badly.

These errors, if repeated again and again, go right into your respective personal narratives about what’s wrong with the other partner and why you’re unhappy. Remember, our personal narratives form to protect our interests only and are almost always based on faulty data—like errors in communication!

Be orderly. Be precise. Be responsible. Be a two-person system.

This excerpt is adapted from In Each Other’s Care: A Guide to the Most Common Relationship Conflicts and How to Work Through Them by Stan Taktin, PsyD, MFT.

Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, is a clinician, researcher, teacher, and developer of A Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy® (PACT). He has a clinical practice in Calabasas, California, and with his wife, Dr. Tracey Tatkin, cofounded the PACT Institute for the purpose of training other psychotherapists to use this method in their clinical practices. For more information, visit thepactinstitute.com.

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