Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A-Z: Grief - Loss Comes in Many Flavors

cat-litter-box.jpgGrief is part of the admission ticket to this grand circus we call life, but most human beings aren't taught to handle it very well.

Mostly, we're supposed to dig a hole and shovel sand over it, like a turd in a catbox.

And yet, the odor still lingers.

To a certain extent, we accept that some grief is normal.  We expect that our 96-year-old granny isn't going to be around forever, and anticipate when she passes, we're going to feel sad (or perhaps, jubilant, depends on how cranky and bitter Granny was).  We know that, logically, people of all ages die: mothers, fathers, babies, siblings, friends, pets, and that this is something we can't control.

Knowing facts, in one's mind, doesn't always translate well to our hearts.

via Robert S. Donovan at Flickr
As children, we're not usually taught how to deal with even small disappointments.  We are generally very uncomfortable with another person's pain.  Dropped ice cream cone? Don't cry, I'll get you another one.  Fall down and skin your knee? Come on, it doesn't hurt that bad. Your dog died? You can get another puppy.

We are not taught how to sit and be with a feeling, to take some time to absorb what has occurred, and to figure out for ourselves what we might want to do next.  Instead we are rushed to another state of emotional being that doesn't make the other person feel so uncomfortable.

Is it any wonder as adults, we tend to go for substances (food, alcohol, drugs) or activities (sex, shopping, gambling) that numb or drown out feelings like sadness, fear, and grief?

I think people are getting better at dealing with grief than we did many years ago. We are learning to say things like, "I'm so sorry for your loss," as opposed to, "You must be so relieved his suffering is over," as I am ashamed to admit, I know I have said to more than one person in the past. Totally stupid and thoughtless of me, though I can offer as a feeble excuse, that I truly wasn't taught any better.

I'll read a book from another time (the L.M. Montgomery "Anne" books come to mind), and think about how some people would die, over a period of several weeks, with family and friends taking turns to sit by their bedside. We seem to be returning to that perspective, with the hospice movement, and I think that's a good thing.  Sure, we can keep the super-elderly and the Terri Schiavo's "alive" for weeks, months, even years, with every tube, wire, and medical gizmo hooked up, but should we?

Maybe it would be easier to deal with the grief of losing a loved one if death wasn't viewed as a bitter enemy, but as a natural part of life.

GriefGrief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Sometimes we also grieve over a partial loss. A child diagnosed as severely autistic, say, or a partner with a mental illness. When there was a baby born into our family with impaired hearing, his grandfather grieved that he would not be able to introduce him, as a teenager, to the glories of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.  Maybe we have a book published, and the number of copies sold falls way below what we fantasized, or not all the reviews are positive.  We might need to grieve over the loss of our dream - what we imagined the person or relationship or event to be.

And there is the grief we don't expect to feel; the grief when something good happens. Graduated high school, woo-hoo!

Yet, it's still a loss. That teenager is losing daily contact with a lot of friends, a familiar routine and perhaps activities (basketball, art class) s/he won't be enjoying on a daily basis anymore.

Getting a promotion, selling a book, getting married - all reasons to celebrate, certainly, but they also carry with them the loss of the person we used to be, before this event occurred. Yet we usually expect to feel unmixed happiness, because we have not been taught that grief is a partner with most life events, and perhaps feel bewildered that it pops up when we think we should be delighted.

Talking about grief and sadness is almost like talking about an STI. Few people have the stomach for  the gory details, and often try to "cheer us up" or move on to talking about more pleasant things.  Yet if we don't all learn to be with our grief, and to allow our friends' and loved ones' grief to sit in the room with us, too, without trying to fix it, ironically, we'll probably get stuck in the grieving process.

I am working on integrating grief and sadness as part of the feelings I explore, not simply try to rush out of the room.  How about you?

My A-Z theme is Issues related to Mental Health or Mental Illness.

Have you ever experienced unexpected grief?
How are you learning to accept loss and pain in your life?
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