May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
-Irish Blessing

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Constructive or Destructive?

Suffering. Sadness. Bitterness. Anger. Isolation. Mood swings. Tears. Defiance. Jealousy. Denial. Regret.

What are things associated with grief and loss?


Right answer, but now what?

What do you do with these things? And what if you are not the person experiencing them but rather the person watching the person you love experience them? Then what?

I don't have the answers so I invite discussion on this blog or your own. I can only share what I know from what I've experienced and witnessed through my losses. I have witnessed grief that has been constructive and inspirational. Parents who have turned their own pain and heartbreak into efforts to create or assist charities or ministries for others suffering similarly or even just causes close to their hearts. I have witnessed grief that has been destructive and at best, ugly. The kind that can transform a person into the gnarled witch who gives Snow White her poisoned apple. I have witnessed grief that falls in between and sometimes see-saws between extremes. I don't believe there is a right way or wrong way to grieve, it is a continuum unique to each individual.

But I have found that there is a limit. More so for those around us than for us, the bereaved. was shocking when I first admitted this to myself...but I believe that limit is necessary. Unless we are able to grieve in a vacuum, we are surrounded by those we love and who love us and it is very painful to watch those we love suffer. But that doesn't mean we have to flip a switch and one day stop grieving. Impossible. However, we all have our limits and while I think living through the death of my children has certainly pushed me above and beyond any limit I could have ever imagined in my life, I can only imagine what it would feel like for my husband to lose his wife to it too, or my children their mother or my parents their daughter or even my siblings their sister. I am not the me I used to be but I'm here and I'm alive and there is nothing that I can do to change what has happened to me. What I can change is how I grieve - constructively, destructively or somewhere in between?

I know grief and I know that it has no time limit and no end so I have searched for custom and practice as a guideline, what is traditionally referred to as mourning. Wikipedia included this in its description of mourning: "Those most affected by the loss of a loved one often observe a period of grieving, marked by withdrawal from social events and quiet, respectful behavior." My research into mourning revealed that widows mourning the loss of a husband appear to be given the greatest latitudes throughout history. It was once customary for widows to wear special mourning clothes, often black or dark colored and it was expected that they would be donned for one to two years and it was even acceptable for a widow to dress that way for the rest of her life. The mourning period for siblings was six months and parents were allowed to remain in mourning for their children "as long as they feel so disposed". By the twentieth century the fairly strict rules of mourning were relaxed and black became a fashion statement rather than an expression of grief.

I am in no way advocating smothering, suppressing or suddenly ceasing to grieve. I am talking about active grieving. Asking for help and telling others how they can help. Listening to what others have to say in relation to ourselves even though those things may be unpleasant and even hurtful. Being open to suggestions intended to help. Being willing to act. Whether that action is speaking with a trusted friend or family about our true feelings, pushing ourselves to do something a little bit out of our comfort zone in order to facilitate healing, exercising to stimulate endorphin release and a positive mental attitude about our bodies and ourselves, speaking to a professional counselor or joining a grief group, and even exploring medical treatment if necessary. Grieving does not take place in a vacuum. No other person on earth feels our losses like we do, but those around us have also experienced loss - they have lost a grandchild, niece, nephew, sister, brother, child and if our grief is destructive they may also lose us, the bereaved, too.

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