Grief and grieving are normal reactions, and there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve
- Grief knows no start or end time
- Everyone grieves in his/her own way
- Even in this time of sound bites and instant messaging (IM) you can’t hurry grief
For each of us, our Book of Life has many chapters on grief and grieving, covering a broad spectrum: I can still conjure the pang of loss when my youngest went to Kindergarten; the sense of betrayal at the end of a friendship, seeing neighbourhoods change or vanish. I’ve grieved them all.
We each grieve differently
I’m always taken aback by those who judge based on lack of ‘expected’ signs of grief, so was pleased to read, in Scentific American, Myths about Grieving:
“The first [myth] is that the bereaved inevitably experience intense symptoms of distress and depression. The second is that unless those who have experienced the death of a loved one “work through” their feelings about the loss, they will surely experience delayed grief reactions, in which strong emotions may be triggered by events unrelated to the loss, even long after it occurred. As we will show, neither belief holds up well to scientific scrutiny.”
When it comes to aging and illness I am learning – although not necessarily articulated as such – we grieve losses along the way: Roberta, 70, grieves arthritic knees that prevent her running – an activity that calmed her brain while keeping her fit.
Then, there’s the grief and grieving that comes with end of life and death – warranting separate chapters in our Book of Life. That grief is so specific that Meghan O’Rourke, in her book The Long Goodbye – written after her mother’s death, quotes Iris Murdoch:
“The bereaved cannot talk to the un-bereaved.”
In his article, The New Grief: How Modern Medicine is Changing Dying, Death and Loss – Dr Joseph Nowinski, Clinical Psychologist:
“The crisis begins when we learn that a loved one has been diagnosed with an illness that is terminal or life-threatening. But this only marks the beginning of a journey–one that may last months or years, and which has the potential to affect just about every aspect of our lives and our relationships.”
It’s true that many of us are uncomfortable, uneasy and untrained in response to grief of any kind. However, for a death, there are long- practiced traditions and rituals in our respective cultures that have served as time-honoured comfort for those benumbed including our communities cocooning the bereaved. In some societies, there is no recovery from the grief brought on by death.
Yet, in this modern, get-ahead world of ours, I fear for those soul nurturing traditions. In this environment of sound bites and IMs there is an impatience with prolonged sadness, inability to cope, inability to get on with life. It seems no longer acceptable to give grief a chance.
Joan Didion, in her book The Year of Magical Thinking – writing about the deaths of both her husband and her daughter, and feeling ‘unschooled in what the grief-stricken need’ – turns to Emily Post’s 1922 book of etiquette, Chapter XXIV< Funerals:
“Those who are in great distress want no food, but if it is handed to them, they will mechanically take it, and something warm to start digestion and stimulate impaired circulation is what they most need.”
We would do well to reflect on what history has shown: you can’t hurry grief. And for those of us who support grievers, we should take heed of Emily Post’s long-ago direction on condolences and what not to say:
“It is God’s will”
“God does not give us more than we can bear”
“I know just how you feel”
“Did he have life insurance?”
For me, humour always serves as a balm – as witnessed by this exchange with with the woman we called our Housekeeper (today she’d be called a Nanny). At 89, she’s still full of piss and vinegar, and has a wicked sense of humour. :
“I’m ready to go.” said she, recently.”I’ve had a full life. I’m ready.”
Said I, already feeling the loss, “I’ll miss you terribly when you’re gone.”
Without missing a beat, she shot back: “That’s your problem.”
Interesting read: Everybody knows about death but what do we know about dying?