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Grief Isle

Grief Isle

As of late, there is a chance you may be a castaway on a remote, barren island.

Inside the world of emotions, grief can make us shipwrecked and stranded, alone, in some unfamiliar place far from home.

Inside the world of images and memories, grief can rather shackle us to the past and ever tempt us to pitch a tent in the chambers of those bygone times.

In these ways, grief can become an isle that separates us from the mainland – the mainland of present life, remaining life, and relationships in-waiting.

Losing someone dear can render us to feel thrown onto a deserted island with little hope of rescue. Such a description may be our interior world while the world outside keeps moving on. When we can no longer experience that special person as we once did, this new state of being can strongly draw our attention backwards in time (as if by a memorial-gravitational pull). Again, a description as this may reflect what is inside us while the world outside still turns, rather unphased. Given this, there is tension in grief between the world inside us and the world beyond us, and this tense dynamic can make us feel additional layers of separation as if a castaway on some grief isle.

In reality, though, does a grief isle exist? Although our sensations (and perhaps our desires as well) can compel or trick us, is there an actual grief isle to retreat to that is utterly divorced from the mainland of life?  

Even when broken in heart, we can yet know there remains a world to live in and a path to still forge in the days ahead. We might not care at times to engage in life, but that does not magically render the objective world to disappear. And yet, the pain of his or her death can so abound, and go very deep, that seclusion on a forgotten island someplace does not sound far-fetched.

Yes, a remote isle may be an appealing retreat. Yet, there is a good chance the remoteness can eventually become an additional regret, weight, and burden.

Yes, a get-away to an abandoned isle can sound enticing. Yet, the eventual isolation can become another source of our feeling defeated, trampled, crushed.

Yes, a people-less isle may conjure up images of a hassle-free and serene locale. Yet, a community of solitude is hardly a community.

If you would, consider with me something of the two prevailing grief models in culture: Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ 5 stages of grief (originally, stages of dying) and William Worden’s tasks of mourning. Now, 3 of the 5 stages are denial, anger, depression. As for the 4 tasks of mourning, 3 of them are accepting the reality of death, working through the pain of loss, and adjusting to a world without the deceased person. Given the ‘toil’ of these stages and tasks, it is not difficult to fathom how a person may feel stuck alone on a desolate isle.

With the urge to deny the reality of the dear person’s death and yet trying to accept that very reality, this tension may drive us to a grief isle of our own making.

With anger that can arise while struggling to work through the pain of sorely missing the dear person’s presence, this combination of ravaging emotions can thrust us to a grief isle of our own invention.

To hobble and adjust to a strange new setting where the dear person cannot be seen, held, nor heard, this unrelenting fact can depress us, and all this dynamic can convince us that isolating to some imagined grief isle is a good idea.

But that is not all. The grief models noted above offer some concluding remarks. Kubler-Ross wrote the final stage to reach is acceptance – or perhaps, if I may slightly redefine, gradually learning to accept the death-loss and the new situation it brings. Worden also prescribed that moving on with life is the sensible eventual task for mourners. These worthy goals, may I say, can only really be grasped on the mainland of remaining life instead of on some grief isle void of bridges or ferry.

In the end, dear reader, although remote a grief isle may sing its siren songs, the honest encouragement here is to do all we can to fix an anchor on the mainland of our remaining life. Though we may be washed over with the pain of loss at times, it is better to awake on the mainland after a sorrowing tsunami than to find ourselves stranded on a self-invented grief isle far away from home.     

An Englishman once wrote…No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main (John Donne).

Much courage to us all as we grieve-in-place, on the mainland, as doing so will help when we make our way back to take up the remaining life trail that awaits.

About the Author------------


Paul Moon is husband to Esther, and their children are Samantha, Christopher and Andrew. Paul studied psychology and mental health counseling, and has a PhD in adult education. He is the author of Lost? When people we really like die, a book for children published by Centering Corporation. Paul tries to serve others through counseling, teaching, co-learning, and becoming an attentive audience to their stories.