I have come across a couple of reflections on grief on the Interwebs in the past week.
Her Bad Mother, Catherine Connors, talks about what is beautiful about grief and heartbreak. Catherine’s father died unexpectedly last year, and her writing about the experience and its aftermath is powerful and gorgeous. (You should go watch this video, too, for its graceful beauty.)
A writer from a site I frequent, Slate.com, Meghan O’Rourke, has a book out called The Long Goodbye. It was written in the aftermath of her mother’s death on Christmas Day of 2008. She reflects not only on her own experience, but on the larger context of grief in society. I haven’t read the book yet, but her articles have been fascinating.
Both of these women have gotten me thinking about my own experience of grief as it pertains to Gabriel. Especially where they touch on the trouble of grieving in our culture. There seems to be a common misperception that the death of someone you love is something to be gotten over, that eventually, a parent’s death, a child’s death, a spouse’s death, is something we move beyond — or it should be.
And, according to our culture (that is, a Western culture) the sooner the better.
In part, I think we can blame the Kubler-Ross model for this idea of “getting over”. I think people mistake the idea of acceptance in grief as “the end” of grief. As someone who has grieved — who still grieves — acceptance means moving forward and through; it means incorporating the grief into your life. We’ve got this tidy little model to look at, and we often overlook the fact that these stages aren’t hard and fast rules. Even Dr. Kubler-Ross noted the stages aren’t meant to be complete or chronological. It was just a way to recognize grief, not a blueprint for how to experience it.
I think we people who experience deep grief need to fight against this idea as grief as something that is supposed to end. Actively. For our own sakes and sanity, as well as those who come after us. Maybe we need to change the culture of grief from the inside.
While I cannot speak to the death of a parent (knock on wood) at this point, I have talked about this in relationship to the death of my first son at Glow in the Woods. In short, you never get over it. And that’s okay.
Mike Spohr of the Spohrs are Multiplying lost his daughter Madeline, and he writes about being defined by that loss. And that it’s okay. Our losses — like so many other things in our lives — define us. Not in a limiting way (unless we let them), but in an expanding way.
I also share in the spirit of Catherine’s comment to the effect that we should — instead of pushing grief or heartbreak away — step back and *feel* it. As she says, “…Try to take the time to go, ‘ow’ and really think about that ‘ow’.”
After all, I was thinking, what is wrong with being sad about losing someone? What is bad about wailing and crying, about the rituals of grief? Someone DIED. Maybe there is something unseemly about a grieving mother or a grieving adult child — the tears, the snotty noses. But I think that’s society’s issue, not the grieving person’s.
Also, what does pushing grief away do to our relationship with the person who died? Encouraging me to “get over” the death of my son sounds to me, “Just forget about him.” That seems so callous! The impatience our society brings to the experience of grieving is damaging — doubly damaging — to the people who have lost. In my opinion.
I also want to say here: I have been incredibly supported in my grief, from the time that I had to make the hardest phone calls I ever made in my life right up to every anniversary of Gabriel’s death. Early June brings emails and cards and phone calls — not the flood that happened when Gabriel died, of course — but one or two (or 10) from people who just say, “I’m thinking of you.” My mother, for one, acknowledges Gabriel regularly. I don’t know that it is easy for her to do it, but I also don’t feel as if she’s forcing anything. Sometimes at a holiday gathering, often on Mother’s Day, she’ll make a passing reference to our loss. And it helps keep me sane. It anchors my son in the world.
I think talking about my grandmother might do the same for my mom. I hope so anyway.
These people who died lived first.
Have you ever grieved? Do you still? How do you do it? And do you think society should be more accepting of grief and grieving than it is?