I remember hating the movie Groundhog Day when I was younger, mainly because it felt like the movie would never end – which was the point as far as I can tell.
It dawned on me recently that this is very much like grief. The process often feels so slow it’s like you’re waking up in the same day over and over again. Nothing seems to change and all you want is to get out of it. Just like Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, we often feel like going to any extreme just to change the persistent pain and monotonous hurt that seem to await us in each upcoming day.
Just as it took Phil a few days before he realized just how stuck he was, grief also tends to surprise us, and may even take days, weeks or months before we realize what’s going on. It’s often said that the first stage of grief is denial, which is really unfortunate as it’s nearly impossible to recognize our own denial. A good way to test whether or not you might be in denial is to ask for feedback from those friends you trust and who are close enough to your situation to tell what’s really going on. Ask them to let you know how they see you coping, grieving or dealing with your hurt.
The movie gives us a glimpse into the other stages of grief as well. After Phil realizes his situation he gets really angry and self-centered – taking his frustration out on the unwitting residents of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. A little further on he begins to hit the sad part of grief, dreading sleep and what the next day holds. He attempts to change his situation (bargaining) through trying to escape, distracting himself or reducing the pain of living, but no matter what he does he wakes up again and again to Sonny and Cher on his bedside alarm.
What really struck me about the relationship between grief and groundhog day was the similar conclusion they both point towards. In Groundhog Day Phil could not move onto a new day until he underwent a necessary internal change. So it is with grief. Pain always seeks to shape us. A colleague of mine once told me that there is no such thing as choosing no pain – there is only choosing one type of pain or the other. What is your pain trying to teach you about your relationship with yourself, others, God? Is your pain productive or destructive? Destructive pain tends to trap us in unhealthier patterns, thinking or emotion and may require professional help.
I also find that grief often moves more quickly towards acceptance when we engage in healthy relationships with others. Phil’s journey in Groundhog Day began with forcing him to recognize his self-centeredness, his need for others and then his inability to know how to connect to others. It wasn’t until he began to risk an authentic and vulnerable relationship with Rita and others (and ultimately more pain as those relationships ended every day), before he could move on from being stuck in February 2. I would say it’s often very similar for us. In order to move out of one grief we need to move into a new, and often vulnerable, state.
Unfortunately, the longer we hide from pain the longer we seem to stay in it.
-by Branden Henry