Monday, May 5, 2014

Good Grief

We are tender, soulful beings, we humans. In my culture we don't want to think of ourselves that way. We like to think of ourselves as ruthless, aggressive, ambitious and unstoppable. That's part of human nature, too, of course. The problem (I see it as a problem) is that it's taboo to attend to the soulful, tender part of ourselves in 21st century east coast culture. Being tender and soulful is seen as a weakness. By some people, not everyone. Listen: it's not healthy to ignore the needs of the tender heart in order to appear powerful and relentless.

Because we can love, we must grieve. We have to grieve small things and large losses, missed opportunities, failures of every kind. It's inevitable. Grieving is not some kind of weak indulgence and it isn't unique to homo sapiens. Elephants grieve, dogs grieve. I'm certain many animals grieve. 

Is there any way to manage grieving? Because it is not pleasant and can be embarrassing in our culture of bad-assedness. In India you can hire professional grievers to do the work for you. What a concept! I wonder if one of the purposes of all the rituals around funerals and grieving is to remind us to go through the process whether we want to or not. These rites are of course mostly about remembering and honoring the ancestors, something humans have always done. My guess is that funeral rites are the oldest rituals. Grief is a part of us, it is not optional.

There have been times when I've swallowed grief, either because I wasn't in the mood for it, or engaged in something else (like working) or so far into denial I couldn't sense it. Swallowing grief is a sickening sensation that makes the throat tight, the head and stomach ache. When I swallow grief, I swear my intestines ache. Grief that doesn't move coagulates in the body, I feel it all the time in the stiff necks and backs of clients. It can coagulate in the organs as well as the muscles, which is never a good thing. It can be toxic when it doesn't move.

I love the idea of wearing a black arm band for a period of time after a loss. I've seen pictures of FDR wearing one after his mother died. When people saw the black arm band they knew that the person sporting it was in an altered state: grief. Part of the difficulty of grieving in our society is that we have to tell the story over and over. With the armband, people could simply say, "I'm sorry for your loss," and skip asking about the details.

When my dog died, I decided to wear an armband. I was a wreck for several weeks after he died, crying uncontrollably. It was horrible; I thought the armband would help. But Michael Jackson died the same week as my dog. It came to me that people would think I was grieving Michael. I couldn't do it.

Make time for grieving, please, for your health and well being. Let it flow, even though it's messy and unpleasant. The elephants understand this and go with it. The elephants are very wise.


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