William Shakespeare had a son who died several years before he wrote the play, “Hamlet”. One of the best known and most often quoted lines in English literature comes from that play: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” In the play, Hamlet experiences his own deep feelings of loss and grief and scholars argue that Hamlet’s speech could offer insight into Shakespeare’s own thinking in his time of grief. Perhaps that is why Hamlet’s speech is so well received; Shakespeare has penned a universal predicament. An audience can feel the real emotion in Shakespeare’s writing and relate to Hamlet’s feeling of helpless discouragement.
“To be or not to be” actually is not the question, but simply the only two options Hamlet saw that he had in his grief. “To be or not to be” may make for a great line from a play, but it seems unfortunate for Hamlet. Shakespeare gave Hamlet only two choices when there were so many more.
It is important to remember that, in our grief, we are not dealing with a play, but with a very real, very painful, very messy part of life. In the reality of grief, the question may need to be reframed. Using Shakespeare’s formula, one way to restate Shakespeare’s line may be, “To move forward in grief or not to move forward in grief, that is the question.” This approach to the question may be more accurate. The death of my loved one is real and painful and life is not the same. Now what? Dealing with our grief may not be easy, but it is necessary. One way to deal with it is to not deal with it. Sweeping our grief under the rug doesn’t make it go away, but simply puts it out of the way temporarily, until it rears its ugly head again. And that will surely be the case. However, when we choose to move forward in our grief, our lives may begin to take on new meaning in light of the death of our loved one. In choosing to move forward in dealing with our grief, the way we deal with our grief is limited only by our own creativity.
Here we are at the beginning of a brand new year. Many folks will see this as a time to make resolutions to do or not to do something. While I admit to not being a great resolution maker because I’m a much better resolution breaker, maybe this is the year I resolve to work through the losses in my life. Losses – and they come in many shapes and sizes – are the circumstances that cause us to feel the pain of grief. If our loss is in the death of someone to which a bond or an affection was attached, the pain may seem unbearable. Then the issue becomes our response to or the way we live out our grief. Grief becomes a new lens through which we journey in life.
So, how will that journey look for you and for me? For one thing, our journeys will be very different because no two of us grieve alike. Grief is an individual experience, and as such, should not be compared to another’s grief. Also, on this journey, give yourself a break. Embrace the messiness of grief and try to be kind to yourself. And remember – you have many more options than Shakespeare allowed Hamlet to have. Do some exploring of what your options are at this point. You may find help in the safety of a listening friend or a support group, but you may find your way in your journey through grief in the unknown or never explored. A new hobby, a different approach to life may be what you’d like to try. After all, you are only limited by your own creativity!
Let’s journey together! Let’s figure out how to be fully alive with our own grief. Let’s find a way to celebrate the lives of those we’ve loved in our life journey, in order to make their lives more significant to us than their deaths.
Lee Ann Livingston, Bereavement Coordinator