Pay me now or pay me later,
the high cost of unresolved grief.
May 1st, 1994, by Russell Friedman
You might recognize the title of this article from an advertising slogan for an automotive product several years ago. The idea was that if you spend a little bit of money on maintenance now, you might save a tremendous amount of money, replacing an entire engine, later. Let’s take a look at how unresolved grief relates to this slogan.
Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later makes a perfect parallel when related to grief. In the time immediately following a loss, we have a very direct pathway to many of the events and experiences within the relationship. Some of the memories are positive and wonderful, some are painful and negative. Death and divorce both tend to trigger memories about the emotional aspects of relationships that may never have been communicated about or completed. As time elapses those memories usually recede and are more difficult to access.
In the automotive product commercial it was the absence of an effective oil filter which led to a massive build up of “crud,” which clogged and eventually destroyed the motor. Thus, buy an inexpensive filter now or buy a whole new engine later.
Lack of knowledge is the problem
A lack of knowledge and accompanying inability to grieve and complete unfinished emotions leads to a build-up of emotional “crud” around the human heart. This almost automatically tends to cause us to limit or restrict the kind of interactions that require an open, loving heart.
The tragedy in this comparison is that while we can indeed replace an automotive engine, we cannot replace the emotional heart of a human being, nor can we replace the time and connections lost while our emotional filters have been clogged.
As if this were not trouble enough, a secondary build-up occurs, in which we develop a relationship to the limitations and an identity with the pain we perceive. As humans, we are very loyal to the things we believe. In adopting this identity to pain, we can become quite unwilling to recognize it, acknowledge it, or repair it. Most likely, we will defend it against all attempts to identify it and complete it. It becomes an accidental defense against the very thing we need to do to recapture our loving hearts.
Unfortunately this combination of non-action coupled with the defense of identifying with the pain is supported by so many of the incorrect ideas we were all socialized to believe. In one of our original blogs entitled, Killer Clichés about Loss, we talked at length about false ideas like “time heals all wounds.” If you are trapped in the belief that time will heal you, then you are further limited from taking actions to discover and complete the emotional pain in your heart. It often becomes a vicious circle, with the griever waiting to feel better so they can take some action. When that doesn’t happen, they begin to believe there is something defective about them, and that they are doomed to a life of emotional pain.
The essential key to recovery is action. Not the activities of “keeping busy,” but the clearly defined actions of discovering and completing unfinished and un-communicated emotions that clog our hearts.
If there has been a significant time lag since your loss or losses occurred, do not feel discouraged. The Grief Recovery Methodsm will still work. The purpose of this article is to encourage you to take effective actions now, not wait any longer.