Last week in a post inspired by a conversation combining vegetarianism with a commentary on the 1980’s commercial “Where’s the Beef?” we explored the risks and benefits of making a religion out of our food choices. Specifically we chatted about what may or may not happen should we decide to share our luxury enabled regimens with others. As an extension of that exploration, today I am addressing a similar challenge and question, for those of us who are in grief and loss.
“Where’s the Grief?”
I have had a lot of experiences with grief. Long before two of my children were sick and died I knew about losing a friend to violent and brutal death. I also knew the shrill of losing someone I loved to suicide. I’d attended funerals for friends of mine before I even graduated high school. And I am not alone in receiving those early doses of reality. With the recent increase in our Nation’s suicide rates and relentless acts of mass gun violence (see any news station) the age at which we are exposed to death seems to be decreasing and as the burden of grief inversely rises. The “club no one wants to belong to” is expanding by the day.
I generally feel like no two experiences of loss are the same, even in the same person (this case, me.). Regardless of the basic facts such as means of death or age at which a person died, the way those around that loss will experience it range from A to Z and back again. The complexity of grief is an inherent challenge that many of us grapple with.
Most frequently I observe this playing out in myself and others, as the manifestation of a private assumption that we are “too” grief stricken. We fear we cry too much. We think we may seem sad for too long. We are afraid we might scare others away with our grieving. We feel like might just ruin the whole (“fill-in-the-blank”) event with our reluctance to leave the house when our hearts are shattered.
We fear we will, and unfortunately do, sometimes lose relationships. And until we are really courageous and stable enough to re-engage with the world, we should trust ourselves. Self care is the closest thing to pave our path to healing as I have been able to find. So I rely on my instincts and plan accordingly.
But what about the less frequent expressions of grief? What happens when the opposite of “too much grief” occurs and we feel like we “should” be grieving, feel pain or express sadness, but it’s just not there? What if others are tearful, mournful and sad but we don’t feel the same way? Is something wrong with us? Are we rocks with no feelings? Are we less human because the tears don’t to seem to come? If we are carrying on in our “Business as usual” fashion, does it mean we are somehow immune to the pain of sorrow and loss?
Are we secretly asking ourselves: “Where’s the Grief?”
It’s ok to ask this question, in my humble experience. Curiosity is powerful. The question is not a problem. Its our interpretation and often self-incrimination of our answer that gets us tangled up.
Operating with a generous assumption that no two grief experiences are the same, we must be as gracious with our apparent “lack of grief” as we are with our fear of “over-grieving” (please don’t add that verb to your vocabulary as it is a fictional concept.). What I am saying is that we don’t need to ask where the grief is, because whether or not we can feel it, its there.
Grief is within us. Full stop. When we lose someone we love, the ensuing grief becomes a part of us. It is our newfound medium of connection with the deceased. And sometimes, often even, grief takes its time before trying to integrate itself into our new (bent but not broken) ways of being. Our identities change. Our hearts were full and now they’re cracked open. Grief eventually flows through those cracks like the dripping water through the cracks of a vase. It’s unavoidable.
But it’s ok to take our time with this evolving process. Maybe our minds want to shield us from the inevitability of what may be the worst emotional and physical pain we suffer in our lifetimes? At times, perhaps nature understands that we need to pace ourselves? And for some of us, that means we need time, maybe oodles of time, maybe decades as was my experience, to process our pain in installments. This is what makes each grief experience unique.
Next time you feel like everyone around you is grief stricken and you find yourself asking “Where’s the grief?” in relation to your own feelings, take a long and deep breath. Maybe your family needs your grief to be dormant for a bit so you can be present to them? Perhaps you cannot afford to financially execute an option to take a leave of absence and must return immediately to work? Or maybe the thought of not working or busying yourself feels like your own act of suicide? Keeping busy can help us avoid feelings but it can also keep us alive.
We may never know the reasons why we may be stoic after a death. And that’s a good thing, because we don’t need to. Our love for our deceased children, parents, siblings, life-long friends and co-workers, and even the decimation of life that is not personal to us, but is inhumane as in the current state of Ukraine, IS REAL and ALIVE regardless of whether we feel everything, or if we feel nothing.
Asking ourselves where the grief is, constitutes one more form of detrimental judgment and potential self-incrimination, that is NOT a necessary part of grief. Judging ourselves for our feelings, or lack thereof, is the same deleterious attack either way.
So use caution if/when asking “Where’s the Grief?” Because there is literally no chance that it doesn’t exist. But it is ours and ours alone. It will introduce itself to us in time. Lets try to let the criticisms of ourselves and others float by like rain clouds that are temporary and irrelevant to what is happening down here on the battle ground of sorrow. Or see the judgments as puddles that are there, but can be stepped around by us without incident.
And when it comes to actually sharing our individual and vulnerable experiences, remember the vegetarian and the teasers at the dinner table from the last post. Those who cannot understand (which is basically everyone BUT you) may not be able to handle the responsibility and trust of holding what you share in their hearts, and with the respect and care that our feelings so deserve. The number of times that sharing my own intimate experience of grief with some naysayer or critic has actually helped them better understand my genuine situation is, well, in a word: “Z-E-R-O”
Let’s take caution not to judge our own grief experience as too little or too much. And let’s not allow our deepest wounds to be exposed to others who are entangled knowingly, or unknowingly with their OWN grief, or lack thereof, unless they genuinely love us. There is no rush to grieve, or not. There is only time and our own personal relationships with the beloved memories of our forever lost loved ones.
Time and love are woven together as the connection we share with that person now. And in small or large doses, only we can figure out what our best paths to healing need next, for our own personal recovery. And if you ever get sincerely curious about where your grief is, just sit still and breathe. It may just be waiting to know it will be safe to come out of hiding.