Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What is remembered, lives

I promised to write about how posture reflects the way people think. I will, but not today. Today I'm thinking about a family whose 28 year old daughter died yesterday. I'm thinking about the friend who had to euthanize her beloved dog, a client who is trying to make sense of a miscarriage and another friend whose mother is about to pass away.

I'm thinking about what it feels like when someone I love dies, how incomprehensible the news is, and afterwards, the process of grieving which is unmanageable, unpredictable, overwhelming, simultaneously heartening and disheartening.

I'm thinking about rituals of grieving, about how in some places professional grievers are hired to cry and wail because it's believed that the soul needs tears in order to move on. In other places people try not to grieve visibly as it's believed that the tears hold back the soul. No one knows for sure what works best. In Judaism we sit Shiva, a wonderful ritual in which we're allowed to be total wrecks for a week. After a week, nothing much has changed in terms of grieving, but we stand up, take a shower, and re-enter our lives. We sing the Kaddish together and begin the slow swim through the icy waters of grief, back to what we think is "normal."

I love rowdy wakes with lots of food and drinking and toasts to the one who has passed on, and I love memorials in which people take turns telling stories. The standard funeral with the body displayed in front of a congregation, a preacher/minister/priest doing the facilitating, well, that's one grieving ritual I don't understand, though I respect every way in which we honor the dead and their families.

Standard bereavement leave in the United States is three days. My question this morning is, what the hell is a person supposed to do in three days? We are so harsh about taking time away from work. People are supposed to come back full time just 12 weeks after giving birth, three days after the death of a beloved. Here in the U.S. we are terribly heartless, terribly harsh when it comes to these things.

Live well and fully today, ok? L'chaim.


Jo said...

I agree completely, Reya. I used to be amused at the rigid and extensive rules and rituals of mourning exhibited during the Victorian era. Complete retreat from society for a prescribed period of time was insisted upon, as well as a gradual change in dress from black to shades of gray then finally, colors again.

Goodness, there were even rules regarding the style of hats and gloves, who might be allowed to visit, and what one could and could not say to the bereaved.

Then I lost four dear people very close to my heart within 8 months.

I see the wisdom behind all of these rigid ideas meant to allow us to process the grief in stages. They served as a protection of sorts to those in pain from the grief.

Today...three whole days? No wonder we're so unhealthy in so many ways.

Peace to those you are assisting in their journeys through grief, Reya.

Second Summit said...

One of the tragedies of the three-day rule is that it leads the uninitiated to believe that grief is managed in three days.

Back in 1968 when I was 21 and my brother died, it was the first death in the family that hadn't been expected. I did all the things one does during those three days, helping plan the funeral, taking my turn at babysitting, talking over my own grief and letting my parents and my surviving siblings vent their grief to me.

--northlighthero, for some reason I can't get LJ's open id to work

Then we had the funeral, and a zillion people came back to the house to enjoy food and drink (lots of which they had provided) and more reminiscing.

And then we went back to our lives.

And I thought 'that's over.' I expected that I would just pick up the threads right where I left them. I was completely unprepared for the crippling moments of punch-in-the-gut grieving that seemed to show up out of the faintest reminders.

I can't help thinking that if I'd grown up in the context of Victorian mourning, or sitting Shiva, or even the tradition of wearing a black armband, I might have been better prepared for the way I felt for the next year or so.

Thanks so much for your beautiful writing about this stuff.

--Northlighthero, somehow I can't get LJ's open ID to work

d.a. said...

May all who grieve be comforted.

Kerry said...

Three days is nothing, it isn't even close to enough time. Although for some people, diving back into work is a cold comfort.
My heart goes out to your friends and acquaintances who are living through difficult days. May they find peace.

Reya Mellicker said...

Second Summit thank you for these beautiful thoughts. You. Too Jo and Deborah and Kerry.

When Jake died I decided to wear a black arm band for awhile, so people would know I was a wreck. But that same week, Michael Jackson died and I thought people would imagine the black arm band was for MJ. So I took it off. But I think it's a lovely idea, gentle and powerful.

Jo those Victorians were weird about everything! I wonder if their method worked.

kbrow said...

I took a month in VA when my father died. My boss was so understanding, and beloved friends and a dogsitter worth her weight in gold stepped in to fill the gaps I had to leave in HI for that time. Honestly, I cannot imagine going back to work in just 3 days.

A former co-worker from my hell job last year lost her husband and came back just a week later.

Reya Mellicker said...

I could see returning to work, as a zombie. But people are expected to come back full blast. What is up with that?