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The Journey of Grief: Peeling an Onion Part 1: The Whirl

By Yourtribute @yourtribute

The Journey of Grief: Peeling an Onion Part 1: The WhirlI feel like I am in the eye of a hurricane, no movement, but everything and everybody is whirling around me in my quiet empty space.

I have no words to explain the first part of the grieving process any better than that. The words were penned by a young mother whose seemingly healthy husband died of a massive heart attack. No warning. No way to prepare. No way to say good-bye. A normal, happy family one moment, and utter chaos the next. Full of hope while he barbecued in the back yard, full of despair as the reality of what happened gradually began to at least peak through the fog. She felt like she was caught up in a whirl.

I have been on a constant search for analogies to use in describing the grieving process. When I started writing, I, like most of the authors at the time, described grief as having stages to pass through. At the time, that seemed to be the best approach to use. I was never comfortable with “stages.” They seemed far too set and ridged to describe an emotional upheaval that seemed to vary with each person. I used them in my first books and made many speeches which featured the stages of grief, but I was always looking for some new way to describe the process. One day a woman said it almost in passing, but it grabbed me and was welcomed into my life and writing with great joy and relief. She said, “Grief is like peeling an onion, it comes off one layer at a time and you cry a lot.” That has been the most helpful and healing picture I have found so far.

If grief is like peeling an onion, then the first layer would be a whirl. The outside of an onion is dry skin that can be peeled off and crumbled into confetti. If that crumpled confetti were thrown in the air, you would have a fairly good picture of the first part of grief. It is a whirl. As the woman so beautifully described it “like the eye of a hurricane.” Ten thousand questions are whirling but they don’t land long enough to be asked and if they did, there is not enough concentration available to hear the answers given.

When the mind is whirling, we are thinking about things we never dreamed we would think about at such a time. We are not thinking about many things we think we should think about at such a time. “Everything and everybody is whirling around me in my quiet empty space.” Is how the woman said it.

It is a time of real but not real. Like one woman said, “We are sitting here planning the funeral for my son, but I expect that door to open at any moment and him to walk in.” Our minds will protect us from the shock by forcing the reality to come gradually, so reality hits and runs. When my brother died, I would think about not ever seeing him again, but before I could really deal with that thought, another would take its place. It is like watching a very sad movie. We cry, but know that in a moment the credits will roll and it will have all been a dream. We sit in our quiet empty spaces and wait for the credits to roll.

There seems to be two tracks running through our brains. On one track we are feeling devastated and helpless. Wondering if we will be able to survive the pain. On the other track we want to challenge heaven and demand some kind of answer. We seem to be jumping from track to track. Friends stand in stunned silence because nothing they can say seems to fit the track we happen to be on by the time their responses come. By the time they react to our pain, we have jumped to the anger track.

The best advice I can give is to let the whirl continue. It is natural and it is healthy. We need time to absorb the shock. Our emotions can only handle so much at one time so grief has a built in system of gradual reality. The thoughts that race through our minds do not signal anything except that our minds are whirling out of control for a while. What we think about or what we do not think about are not signs of how much we loved the person. The whirl means our bodies and our minds are taking the time to sort out the feelings we will later walk through one at a time as we peel the other layers of the onion.


Copyright Doug Manning of In-Sight Books, Inc. Doug’s books, CDs and DVDs are available at Post originally published on Doug’s Blog at The Care Community


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