A few weeks ago someone posted a graphic on Facebook that read a bit like this: "there is something to be said about driving and singing to very loud music." I have always agreed with that and found myself doing just that as I returned from Chicago where I spent four days attending the long awaited celebration of my brother's 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Given his health from age 28 (2 weeks after ordination he was in cancer surgery not expected to live) until today, he should not have made it this far.
Recover, Heal, Transform, Grow, Integrate, Learn, Medicalize, Complicated, Disordered, Untimely, Get Over, Process, Move On, Renew, Move through, Stages, Get Past....and on and on and on.
These terms and more are used regularly regarding the time following the death of someone we love. Somehow we find a need to label our grief, to judge it and even medicalize it. It seems as if just saying "I am grieving" or "I am mourning" is not good enough. The labels we insist on using, however, convey a philosophy about grief. Usually a pathetic philosophy. In our death and grief phobic society, (and a society that judges people so quickly and easily) we look for goals such as recovery, transformation, healing, learning, move through stages, move on, get past, integrate the experience, grow from grief and more. We cannot just let grief be grief. Instead we have to solve it as if it was a problem. We medicalize it as if it were a disease. We put it on a time table or turn it into some lesson or change. Grieving people get trapped in this mentality and following a loss too many want to know how long this will take, when does "it" end and shouldn't I be "moving on", getting better, healing? Those who try to help often come from good intentions but too often lack the information they need, feel frightened and/or helpless and perhaps have an inability to accept their own raw or repressed grief.
Princess Diana's brother, Charles Spencer, who delivered his sister's eulogy was interviewed on the CBS News Sunday Morning show today (March 15, 2015). In the course of the interview he said (in response to interviewer Tracy Smith's statement "It has been close to 20 years." "Yeah, I met someone the other day who was so interesting, she had actually lost her sister in a car crash, in fact the same time. And I said, 'How is it for you?' And she said, 'Well, the pain's the same, it's just the tears are less.' And that's very profound."
Each year when February arrives, my mind travels back to 1965, the year my brother was ordained a Catholic priest. In an Irish Catholic family, especially back then, having a priest in the family was (and still is) a great honor. My mom and dad were thrilled and proud as their many siblings, families and friends attended the ceremony and his first Mass the next day.
It was 3am on January 3. A light snow was falling as three rabbits ate grass in my back yard. They looked cold. I rarely have sleep problems now but I know not to fight them. I make herbal tea, grab a book or sit in the dark. I don't dare turn on my computer, iPad, Android phone or iPod. None of these will help me get back to sleep.
I had driven to the nearby town of Dodgeville that day for a computer repair passing the cemetery where my husband Bill is buried. To distract myself from the sadness I always feel when I drive that road, I flipped on public radio. On this day I was feeling relieved that the holidays since Bill's death were finally over. One of my favorite programs had just started: On Point with Tom Ashbrook. I learned this was his first day back following the death of his beloved wife, thereby ending the distraction I sought. Most anything of value on the subject of grief draws my attention. I am a therapist and bereavement counselor and I am also on my own grief journey. Certainly not like I was early on, but grief is forever and as many people who have walked this journey know, five years, though it seems like forever, also feels like yesterday. One learns to live with grief and search for anything that will ease the pain. I have spent 40 years working with those who hurt, many of them grieving...most I might say since grief is about many kinds of loss. How I wish all that experience had helped just a bit after Bill's death but nothing could ease that gut wrenching pain; pain that sits more quietly now, but still rears its head unexpectedly in spite of all the grief work I have done.
Many of us spend a good deal of time crying in the first few months of our lives. It all starts with the birth cry which occurs as the newborn's lungs expand with air. And then come the tears mothers read so well knowing when her infant is hungry, wet, uncomfortable, overtired, scared, angry and more. As adults, crying varies between the sexes, with women crying more often than men probably because it is considered more socially acceptable. As adults we cry when we hear lovely music or see something beautiful. Tears flow when we are sad and happy; frustrated, overwhelmed or trying to get attention among other things.
And most of us cry when we grieve.
Actually with grief we weep, sob, and sometimes wail because the pain is so deep. Sadly, in our society, we tend to be uncomfortable with tears be they our own or someone else's. As a result many hold them in far too often; apologize for them; and save them for when they are alone even though crying with someone is a sacred experience. My husband used to call my tears "holy water".
She was showing me around the tenth nursing home I had visited in as many days. Bill was in the hospital at the time and each day after visiting him, I would evaluate a nursing home or two in case one was needed eventually. In all, I visited 15 nursing homes.
On this day, the administrator took me to the activity room where I saw a basket of small towels sitting on a long table. “Some of the residents help fold these because it is something they can still do,” she told me.