Friday, May 1, 2015

American Culture: Grief Isn't Sexy

Friday, May 1, 2015

Last night I watched a two hour episode of Grey's Anatomy on ABC. It was an episode that featured the immediate fallout of the tragic death of one of the show's principal physician characters, Dr. Derek Shepherd. I have not been a consistent Grey's Anatomy fan over the decade it has run on television. I decided to tune in because social media was lit up by the reactions of fans who felt devastated and even betrayed by the death of yet another major character.

What most struck me about last night's episode was the way in which the storyline was told in brief clips over a long stretch of time. The now widow of Dr. Shepherd was shown at moments around the holidays. The episode ended some nine months or more in the future in February of what would be 2016. So are viewers to believe that all future episodes will automatically be taking place some nine months in the future forever more? I find this disorienting. I also feel it does a bit of a disservice to the reality of human grief.

I know from personal experience that grief is not something that can be rushed. Grief must have its time and psychic space to be attended to. In my opinion one of the worst things we can do to ourselves is attempt to forego or ignore our grief or attempt to rush through it like dashing through the '12 Items of Less' line at the grocery store in an effort to save time and escape a crowded space. Denying grief doesn't really eliminate it. Grief can instead go 'underground'.

One can offer any number of theories as to why the writer of Grey's Anatomy told the story in the format it was presented last night. Perhaps she doesn't 'do' grief. Perhaps she feels giving the reality of grief sufficient time to naturally appear and run its course in the lives of Shepherd's colleagues would unnecessarily mire the show in a storyline that would lose viewers rather than attract them. Whatever her reasons I came away from the show with a distinct feeling that grief had little space in the show. And I found that both unfortunate as well as a little bit strange considering the show is a medical drama.  Doctors and healthcare providers deal with illness, death and human limitation on a daily basis. Surfing the waves of human response to loss is a natural part of their work.

Put simply I think it true that mainstream American culture shies away from grief because grief is not perceived to be sexy or appealing. Grief can broadside the lives of individuals and entire families. Grief can consume us and undermine our quality of life. In its worst manifestation grief can warp the remaining life of those it touches. Think, for example, of parents who lose their children due to accidents or death. Consider those parents whose children are abducted and never seen again. How can a person eventually find himself on the other side of the grief that comes from such a horrific loss? Can a person actually heal from such a loss? I believe it is possible. But I also believe it must be one of the worst kinds of horror to endure. When children prematurely lose their parents (as I did) the pain of that loss can be immense. The only pain that must easily rival or even surpass this sort of pain is that which parents feel when they lose a child.

Grief can bow us over and leave us dizzy. We may find ourselves reaching for the soft earth beneath our feet in the hope that somehow we can find comfort and release. This is how I felt in the summer of 2013.  The grief I felt at the time was enormous. It was consuming. But before I could even begin to access my grief I first had to wade through a morass of anger, bitterness and sadness. Thankfully my anger and bitterness is gone. My sadness remains. But it is lifting as time continues to pass.

Can anything and everything heal with the passage of enough time? I would like to think so. And yet healing does indeed require time. We do ourselves a disservice when we do not attend to our deepest feelings.

In regards to my own life I feel that enough time has passed that my healing process has naturally brought me to a new milestone. I have felt myself reaching this new place over the last many weeks and months. I have felt this growing urgency to move on to the next step. Mourning is an inevitable part of loss. I see my own mourning coming to an end.

I want to celebrate my own life and create something new and brilliant!

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