At certain level crossings in rural
France, signs can be seen warning that one train can conceal
another: “Un train peut en cacher un autre.” In much the same way,
any loss we experience has the potential to release other losses
that we never allowed ourselves to grieve about at the time.
Other people’s grief can also serve as a
catalyst for releasing our own. A number of people who watched
Shadowlands, the film about C. S. Lewis’ extreme reaction to the
death of his wife wrote to the actor who played the part of the
grieving Lewis, to tell him about grief and losses that they had
never previously mentioned to anyone. They had been stirred by
Anthony Hopkins’ sensitive portrayal of Lewis’ grief – and it
brought their own to the surface.
When people back off, and bury their
grief, or become disproportionately fearful or angry, it is often
because something from earlier in their life (or from their family’s
history) is being in someway re-enacted. Understanding this goes a
long way towards explaining why people sometimes demonstrate
significantly more grief than a situation appears to warrant.
A typical example is when someone
shows more emotion over the loss of a pet than they did for the
death of some primary person in their life. It is as though they are
giving themselves permission to grieve the one death now in turn
releases buried layers of unexpressed griefs.
We should certainly not underestimate
the effect that the death a pet can have on us.20 Considering the
pleasure we take in their companionship, to say nothing of the
memories we accumulate around them (and the positive impact they can
have on our blood pressure!) it is no wonder many of us grieve
deeply when they are taken from us.
Two years after the loss of our
faithful collie dog, Ros and I were still experiencing severe canine
withdrawal symptoms. In a dozen different ways we found ourselves
missing our deeply affectionate if somewhat behaviourally challenged
four-footed friend. Another couple might have gone out the following
week to chose another one, but it took us two full years before we
felt ready to take on another dog – a delightful though elderly
chocolate-brown Labrador, who had spent six long months in a rescue
centre. He is delighted to have found a welcoming family – and we
love him to bits!21