Saturday, March 28, 2009

What Grief Is: A Response

***** Warning: The next post may be too emotional for some readers. This blog will have heavy and light moments. This one isn't all that light. *****

In response to the What Grief Is article on Slate...

The 27th of the month before someone's birthday always makes me a little bit queasy--mostly just family members, but close friends, too. Two of my three brothers died on the 27th; one before his 18th birthday (I was seven), the other before his 21st (I was 23). Even now, seven years after Nathan died and 23 years after Cory, I have moments that sucker punch me out of the blue.

I think it is the nature of grief. I know they are both in a better place, but that is not what hurts. What hurts is the moments I long to share with them--moments where Cory would wince at his overenthusiastic little sister or where Nathan would tease me until I would want to kick him in the shins. Quiet moments where I just need a hug from someone who loves me one moment and hates me at the next but still would protect me from here to doomsday.

I long to see their faces when, at some future moment, they would have met my husband-to-be (whomever he may be). My youngest brother is not that intimidating--who is going to threaten to kill him if he hurts me (only as a joke--kind of)? Who is going to tell my kids (someday, hopefully) what I was like as a child? My parents remember bits, but not the sneaky stuff you do just with siblings. And my next younger sibling is seven years younger. I won't get to meet their potential spouses or kids, and see the amazing men they would grow into. My heart aches for those moments.

I experienced a lot of death during my college years. After Nathan's sudden and tragic death, I hated anyone who said, "I'm sorry..." or "How are you doing?"

"Really? I am too!" or "How do you think I am doing?!?" What was I supposed to say? "Yep, It is all your fault?!?" Logic doesn't figure into it. I came back to school after the funeral, and all I could think that first night was, "There is no one here who has any inkling of how I am feeling, and everyone seems so far away." I spent the evening crying myself to sleep, and subsequent days watching a lot of Buffy--specifically the one where Buffy's mom dies. It is very stark and raw--and you know deep down that someone has also ached like you have. I had good days and bad, and yet on certain days I had friends who would ask me how I am while their eyes begged me to not tell them. You could almost see them running, screaming in the other direction rather than face such naked emotion.

Years and years of society's repression of real, genuine emotion has led to our only getting obsessed with some of the more shallow aspects of life around us--clothes, celebrities, movies, TV, electronics--material items it is okay to show emotion for. Yet true emotion, deeply-felt emotion is not allowed. It is too scary. And that is what I think it comes down to. For some reason our culture has decided that any emotion other than elation or ambition is supposed to remain behind closed doors. We are supposed to think with logical heads, go with our intuition, but keep our feelings to ourselves. Sadly, we are not wired that way. Yes, I, too, have bought into some of the shallow, but some of our best writers who have explored grief have written for TV of late. I've read a lot books about grief, and I've found that sometimes those rituals we no longer practice are extremely therapeutic (which is probably why generations now need much more therapy).

It has taken a lot of therapy and many dear friends (not to mention an intensely personal relationship with God as well as a firm belief in the healing powers of the atonement) to get me to a point in my life where I am okay. I realized it shortly after I turned 30 this past year--I am doing really well, and my life is really good. I still have my moments, but moments come and go; and my closest friends are those who know how to just be and let me be when I need it. And they know not to say, "I'm sorry" or "how are you doing?" And they know why I loved Veronica Mars bringing to justice her best friend's killer.

Our family is a lot closer now. My sister and I are extremely different yet best friends (which probably wouldn't have happened if Nathan hadn't died). My little brother alternates between being spoiled by us and exasperating us. My parents, though struggling through the financial crisis right now (Nathan was going to take over our small family business), have become a stronger couple by burying two sons together and yet believing their entire family will be reunited someday.

Ultimately, I am much more likely to express all the emotions I feel, and those around me have come to learn to deal with it. I am not pulling punches anymore. Somehow our culture has to learn a better way to deal with grief, or we are going to have countless groups of people suffering in silence until something ultimately explodes. And why has grief become the equivalent of religion--"you can believe in something, but for heaven's sake do not share it!"

Moving back to the article, how do we teach dealing with grief better? How do we mourn with those that mourn? Why is it that we expect people to come back "all better?" Why do we think everything should be fine after a few months? Do we reinstate the rituals of before? Allow there to be public mourning? How would you solve this problem? There has to be a better way to teach future generations, so they do not have to shatter and slowly come back together like I did.

I have a lot of other feelings on the subject, but I don't want to bog this down too much by preaching from my pulpit of healthy grieving. Do you have any thoughts?

To commemorate yesterday, I was going to write a different post, but someone else beat me to it. I'll let her speak for me: Thanks, Ruby.


Eva said...

I never knew that...
I don't know what to say...So...I will let the silence talk...

Lady Holiday said...

It's nice to hear your perspective, because I never know what to say, or how to talk to people (or if they even want to talk) about their personal tragedies. Thank you for sharing such deep feelings. As for how to mourn, I wear black all the time anyway, so that wouldn't really work these days. But I love that we still create public memorials, often by artists, that essentially create a physical thing out of the grief we feel. I'm thinking of various memorials for September 11th victims, and AIDS victims that I've seen in New York. One of the most amazing memorials, an icon of American grief, is the sculpture that Henry Adams commissioned from Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1891, after his wife died. Of course we can't all afford to commission sculptures, but we can express our grief artistically and so accomplish both a release and a creation, both of which are positive things, I think.

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