During a grief group I recently co-facilitated, the main concern of most, if not all, of the attendees was, “When is it going to end?” Most of them were people who had lost their loved one recently – in the last few months – but they were already tired of the process, tired of the feelings, and tired of grief altogether. They just wanted it to be over, and their friends and family members, while sympathetic, wanted it to be over, too. Bereavement has a timeline, it seems; a proscribed period of time to happen, after which we are cut off – from others and from our feelings. This doesn’t seem right for something that is so big, complex, and multi-systemic.
The word “grief” comes from the Latin, “to bear.” This seems accurate, since grief definitely can feel like it has weight to it. I remember feeling almost water-logged with emotion after my mom died. Grief is a process, like anything else, and just something you have to get through. It doesn’t help the situation that grief has become almost impolite in modern society; something not done in public that needs to be finished quickly. A friend of mine (Sara Beth!) said that people think their grief is the worst part of them, but it isn’t; it is a natural, necessary, soothing thing to do. Dr. William Frey has discovered that emotional tears contain protein-based hormones, adrenocorticotropic hormones, and leucine encephalin, a natural painkiller; something we need during hard times.
Every big loss can bring up prior losses, griefs, and betrayals; it’s called compound loss but we don’t always realize that’s what is happening. Compound loss, unlike compound interest, is not a good thing. We are always suffering losses, some big and some small, some mini. The problem is that we don’t always know it is desirable, or even acceptable, to mourn these things, and every loss deserves – in fact, needs – to be mourned. After all, we grieve what has value; whether that is a loved one, our health, a divorce, a job, a pet or a home – even a role in one’s life. And if it had value, it deserves some notice. If we haven’t grieved for those smaller losses, or even for a big one, the way we should, our present grief can fall on us like an avalanche; causing deeper, worse feelings without us knowing exactly why.
How do we make it okay for people to grieve all their losses so that they don’t get flooded with overwhelming feeling like a river that’s jumped its banks? Writer bell hooks wrote that grief, “marks us as flawed, imperfect. To cling to grief, to desire its expression, is to be out of sync with modern life, where the hip do not get bogged down in mourning.” Maybe we need to grieve more, though; maybe not grieving has put us out of touch with what makes us human. After all, we all mourn; we can all understand a little bit of the thing each person is suffering, we have all felt loss at one time or another. So why can’t we make we make mourning more mainstream, heartache more hip?
In the past, widows wore black and mourned for a year or more. That might be excessive today, but there must be something or some way to put our grief out there. Bereavement counselors and end of life workers like myself are always advocating for better grief support from employers, the world, etc, but maybe we’re thinking too big: maybe, in keeping with the idea of grieving all small losses as they happen we need to go small. So I hereby declare today Mini Grief Day! Oh Hell, let’s make every day Mini Grief Day, so that we are always acknowledging that our feelings are okay, that we have felt loss and bereavement and there is nothing wrong with that: that we are, in fact, human. Let’s all cry a little every day – get those natural pain-killers working!
Personally, I am no stranger to grief, although I could probably cry a little more often, but I haven’t felt the kind of grief a death causes for a long time. And now, I feel like a new clock has, with a clunk and a wheeze, begun ticking away on my father’s life, pushing the quiet grief I’ve felt for a long time at his slow disappearance into a more prominent place in my consciousness. I can already feel that this is a different feeling, and one that is only going to get stronger. You would think that I had already done all my grieving, watching him go quietly into that good night, but I know that I haven’t – because he wasn’t truly gone.
So I’m going to try to take my own advice, and grieve a little bit each day – and not just about Dad but for every loss; my mother, my illness, my beloved cat, my Chevy Blazer, my job as a massage therapist, and even the role as caregiver that I will lose when Dad dies. I’m going to watch sad movies and let myself cry. I’m just going to let myself be sad. It’s not that I won’t still feel a deep loss when he does finally die, because I know I will, but I will have let myself practice it so I won’t be unprepared. And you know what they say: “Practice makes perfect(ly human).