Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Grief Update

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Over the course of the last many weeks and months I have noticed a development in regards to the grief I had carried for so very long.  The hard core of my grief is starting to soften.  It has taken about a full year of calendar time for this to take place.  But at least it is happening.

I attribute this development to a number of positive changes in my life.  I have remained faithful to a regimen of exercise, physical therapy and psychotherapy for many months now.  Practice does indeed eventually make for perfect…or at least quite good.  I also have enjoyed a very beautiful autumn thus far.  There were many days this October when the autumn light was sharp and golden.  Witnessing the manifold colors of trees as they prepare for winter hibernation can be something like a tonic for the psyche.  I am also fortunate to have some very good friends (both near and far) who care about me.

My grief is certainly not gone by any means.  But this internal softening leads me to believe I am moving in a good direction.  Though I even feel a certain situational grief now that summer is long gone and winter is growing ever closer I feel consoled by the truth that the cycle of life is ever turning and ever renewing.

Back in early July, upon the anniversary of the beginning of my blog, I shared some myths associated with grief.  I then did something of a commentary about how my own life had changed in the intervening year.  Now, nearly four months still later, I am doubling back to offer an updated update.  I am grateful to say I do see some significant additional change in my life.  What follows below are myths, counterpoints and then some of my own current thoughts about grief.

Myths (and counterpoints) About Grief

Talking is the only way through...
Grief needs expression but there are many ways, some of them silent

Silence is indeed sometimes ‘golden’.  Though the therapy I have done in the last sixteen months has included treatment modalities such as EMDR therapy it has nonetheless consistently featured talk therapy as a primary element of each session.  I have spoken of the issue of grief on a number of occasions.  And talking has helped.  But silence and simply sitting with what we feel within is also important.

I believe it is true that the ‘answer’ to grief is no more simplistic than the ‘answer’ to healing.  There is no one way to the endpoint of a healed life.  You can make the journey any number of ways.  For some individuals talking out what they have seen and suffered will prove vital.  For others a measure of silent contemplation, and the external environment necessary to support such contemplation, will prove of major importance.

After one year, things are much better...
Grief has no timeline

My own grief is better after one year.  But I wouldn’t say it is much better.  I am moving in a good direction.  But as noted above grief indeed has no timeline.

The holiday season, which is now rapidly approaching, has its own special rhythm and associations.  For some individuals it is an especially painful time of year to be alive.  Whether that is due to instances of past trauma and loss occurring around the holidays, growing up in a family in which Christmas was always something of a disappointment or some other reason, the holidays can be both profoundly uplifting and joyful as well as profoundly stressful.

I myself feel much more excited about the approaching holiday season as compared to the last one.  Last Christmas I found myself still caught up in the fallout from the beginning of my healing journey which, at that time, had begun only six months earlier.  Throughout this calendar year, as I have settled into the process of therapeutic journey-work, I have focused primarily on exploring the deep patterns of thought and belief that developed in my psyche at an early age.

I am looking forward to a brighter, more joyful Christmas.  But I suspect the grief will remain…at least as a significant element in the background of my daily life.

Not crying is a sign of denial or abnormal grief
Crying is individual and has a lot to do with history

Crying (or the apparent lack thereof) can be a big issue in grieving.  We all have our own uniquely developed ideas as to what grief and grieving ultimately ‘look like’.  But grieving, like crying, is an individual process. 

I know for myself that I was a sensitive boy.  The trauma I endured was thus all the more difficult to bear.  I felt the fear, chaos, perceived betrayals and disappointment of corruption and bad human behavior more acutely than I might have had I been less sensitive and attuned to my immediate environment.

I do believe delayed or unexpressed/unreleased grief is ultimately harmful to a person’s long term well-being.  Upon returning from a trip to Germany in May, 2013 I became quite ill.  In the process of uncovering what was going on inside me I rather quickly discerned unexpressed grief related to the loss of my birthmother.  I think it is correct to say that a failure to grieve can lead us to later experience a sense of becoming stuck.  Grief must be given its time and place.

Men grieve one way, women another
Some people emote, others do not

I think the overgeneralization that men and women grieve differently does have some fundamental truth to it.  But there are exceptions to virtually everything.

I grew up in a family where the men are quite often stoic and do not show visible signs of grief.  I attribute some of this family predisposition to the broader American culture I grew up in.  There is a strong (and dysfunctional) strain of macho-man thinking and being in the United States.  And it influences everything from foreign and domestic policies to how wives and children are treated.

Children grieve briefly, or not at all
Children grieve for a long time, in intervals and it often resurfaces at developmental milestones

The notion that grief ‘resurfaces at developmental milestones’ is, I believe, spot-on.  We may begin grieving the loss of parents long before their biological deaths.  Indeed, I began grieving the loss of both of my biological parents in the last year.  I grieved for my mother due to the slight degree of dementia she now has.  And I have grieved for the healthy relationship with my father that really never existed.

And biological death may trigger grief from other losses earlier in life that were never properly mourned.  As I noted above, I believe grief requires us to give it a place in life.  It will not be denied.

Working a lot is a sign of delayed or denied grief
Distraction is a normal response to grief unless one compromises other life commitments

I am not sure how much I agree that ‘distraction is a normal response to grief’.  It may be normal in the sense that a vast percentage of the population uses distraction as a coping mechanism.  But just because something is endemic does not mean it is normal in the sense of being healthy.

Coping mechanisms, both individual and collective, are very much interconnected with cultural norms.  It is thus instructive to examine the broader culture.  Here in the United States much of life is dominated by what could be called a ‘doing-culture’.  To be doing is somehow seen as more meritorious than simply being.  Being is easily conflated with being lazy, shiftless and unmotivated.  To use a personal day for recreation during what would otherwise be a five-day workweek would be construed as absurd in some work cultures.

Going to the cemetery is a necessary ritual in grief
This ritual is highly individual and often related to family traditions

Of all the myths listed I find this one to be the most indicative of what you might call ‘old-school thinking’.  I do not believe it is necessary to go to the place where your ancestors’ bodies were buried as the only appropriate manner to acknowledge and revere their memories.  In some cases (missing persons, serious bodily trauma that results in death and still worse for the body itself) it actually isn’t possible to go to a place where your loved one is buried.

My own life experience bears witness to the fact that family tradition can indeed play a significant role in how people ritualize their experience of loss and grief.  For me the sting of losing a beloved is deeply connected to the end of a cherished relationship.  I love the beauty of the human form as much as the next person and thus miss the physical beauty of those who pass on.  And yet we are much more than our bodies.

People related to each other (should) grieve alike
Each had a unique relationship to the person or event that happened and will react in their own way and on their own timetable

The idea that those who are connected by blood ought to grieve alike strikes me as quite simplistic.  I sometimes wonder how I could indeed be related to some of my blood relations.  Their political persuasions and ways of carrying themselves in the world strike me as irresponsible and lacking in authenticity.  But that is my opinion alone.

I think it important to recognize how unique the relationships can be between different people.  Whether you are one of a number of siblings grieving the death of a single set of parents you all have in common or grieving the loss of someone else (such as a close friend, mentor, boss, etc) the experience of grief is as unique to the individual as is the individual himself.

I believe I also have some other timely observations to offer.  Grief, like other human experiences that may bring us low, may linger if we do not give it sufficient time and space to be.  When our lives are filled with chaos and difficulty such that meeting our most fundamental needs is difficult in itself how much more difficult can it then be to attend to something as significant and (often) demanding as grief?

It is my related impression that grief will not be ultimately denied.  When it sits within us unattended and unacknowledged I believe grief has a way of manifesting in other ways.  We would do well to pay attention to grief.  To truly grieve is but one powerful indicator that we are indeed fully alive.

Post Script 

Fifty Day Challenge, Day #28

  • I am meeting with my vocational rehabilitation counselor to check in regarding my work search
  • I will be attending a discussion this evening on the topic of economic inequality

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I invite you to accompany me as I document my own journey of healing. My blog is designed to offer inspiration and solace to others. If you find it of value I welcome you to share it with others. Aloha!