Recently I was asked why some people 'just don't get it.' Often we come across people who seem so cold and callous, as if impervious to the feelings of others, yet we know they have experienced similar losses. One of the basic needs of a griever is to feel and express the gamut of emotions that flood them during a difficult time. Maya Angelou once said: 'There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.' Grief is hard work, it takes time and requires our full attention at first. When we choose to ignore it, eventually it will rear its ugly head, and often at the strangest times.
The key with grieving is our ability to 'share our story.' This is a time when we need to reach out to others, find a listening ear, and let our story spill out. When we bottle up our feelings and emotions, these suppressed feelings begin to eat away at us. How often have you tried to hold back tears and found yourself having a difficult time swallowing because you could feel a huge lump in your throat, or have an unbearable heaviness in your chest and shoulders. There is a price we pay for not working through our grief. Yet so many individuals (often through no fault of their own), have pushed aside the hurt and emotions that come with the death of a loved one in hopes of getting on with their lives that much faster.
These are the individuals who sometimes come across as impatient with others who they perceive as 'wallowing' in their grief. These are individuals who have in fact experienced the death of a loved one themselves, but did not fully enter into their grief. For those of us who reach out to these individuals hoping they can shed light on our own sorrow, we find ourselves stopped by a protective barrier of their own design. They too may have reached out to someone during their sorrow, only to be pushed back and in turn that is all they know. The lesson they may have learned about grieving is that it is a private 'thing' and 'no one really wants to hear it.'
Fortunately for so many of us, the media has been more in tune with the emotions and realities of grief, and more and more shows and movies address the aftermath of loss. For Downtown Abbey followers, Tom and Mary found that they could talk to each other about their subsequent losses and how it felt to be alone, and the confusion that surrounds us when we have lost someone we love. The TV series Madam Secretary touched upon the many facets of grief, and how even within our own families there can be so much turmoil, confusion and conflict, especially if the death was suspicious or a suicide. There have been a multitude of movies that broach the subject of death, and life after death. Ghost showed us that the love does not die with our loved one; Field of Dreams demonstrated how we can be inspired by those we love even after their deaths. The list goes on and on, there are so many more that speak of death and how we react to those losses. At whatsyourgrief.com, you can find a list of just some of these movies, with additional movies listed by those commenting on the blog post.
Yet so many people will do everything they can to avoid the feelings and emotions that run wild during our grief; only to find them surfacing months or even years later. Sadly for many individuals in order to suppress their feelings, they turn to other means of coping, which too often are unhealthy and can have devastating outcomes. Many have told me that they began using substances such as drugs or alcohol to continue achieving a numbness, in hopes of not feeling and avoiding the pain that follows a loss. Other addictive behaviors can also be used to avoid the seesaw ride of emotions in hopes that it will all go away. Shopping, gambling, promiscuity, Internet, etc.; just about anything that begins to take on a life of its own causing us to fore go all other activities and/or other people. Activities and behaviors which take us down paths that result in further losses and emotional turbulence.
We have so many choices in life, and what we do with these choices dictate the outcomes. We are all creations of the environments we grew up in, but that does not mean we need to continue repeating what we learned. How we cope is learned from those we observed and looked up to, what we do with the lessons we learned is up to us. It is true that each and everyone of us grieves in a totally distinct way, but the important factor here, is to grieve. We need to grieve, we need to enter into those feelings and emotions, we need to allow ourselves to be angry, sad, happy, confused, and every other emotion in between. There are certain rights of mourners, and so often we choose to ease the uncomfortableness of others and disregard our own right to mourn and grieve. In grief, we often forget we are the one that is going through the sadness and hurt of losing someone we love, and forget to give ourselves the permission we need to enter into that loss.
Too often we allow the misconception and misguidance of others to decide on how we should proceed through this maze of loss. We even get mixed signals and directions from those who we know have been there before us. The best advice I and many others can give to anyone who is joining the ranks of the bereaved, is to educate yourself about grief. There are so many helpful websites, such a The Grief Toolbox and Griefnet.org, and dedicated sites for those with specific types of loss, such as: SurvivorsofSuicide.com and SurvivorsofHomicide.com. There are a multitude of sites that can at least help you find some answers and explanations as to what you are experiencing, and that let you know you are not alone. When my daughter Rachel died, it was sites such as these that kept me afloat. Forums, blogs and informational sites helped me realize that what I was experiencing, feeling and doing where normal and natural reactions to the death of my daughter; and that I had nothing to feel ashamed of or hide from. In educating myself, I was able to work through my loss, deal with the people who 'didn't get it,' and regain a sense of normalcy in my upturned world.
The most important thing to remember is that you have suffered through the loss of someone you loved, someone who has been a part of your life, and has left an indelible mark on your heart. You have the right to mourn and grieve for this person and no one can take that away from you. For this very reason so many sites list the Mourner's Code or Griever's Bill of Rights, written by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., Center for Loss and Life Transition (www.centerforloss.com), because we and others need to be reminded that we have earned the right to grieve. Humans have grieved since the beginning of time and continue to do so, until we ourselves die. This has been such an integral part of humanity, that rites, rituals and customs have been created and instituted by every race, creed and belief system to help us cope with our losses. So the next time you come across someone who is unsympathetic or lacks compassion, let it go, and just remind yourself that they 'just don't get it!' Someday maybe they will, and hopefully with the knowledge and experience you gained, you will be there to help them.
Blessings! and until we meet again.