Giving Voice During Grief
There is a prevalent idea in our society that says there is a "final" stage to grief where the person "gets over it" and that's that. Well, let me tell you something. Those "stages" came from the 1970's work of Kubler-Ross as she was writing about hospice care (then a very new idea) AND she was talking about the person who was dying!!! You wanna know why the final stage was "closure"? Because the person would be dead!!!!!! HELLLLLLOOOO!!!! These "stages" were not meant, as Kubler-Ross originally wrote them, for the bereaved who would be left behind and so they DO NOT WORK as a paradigm for helping people live life after the death of a loved one.
So, we've done this in various ways and forms here in this column, but again this month, we'll address giving voice to your experience of grief as it happens *over the course of time* -- and I do mean over long periods of time like 1 year, 4 years, 10 years, 20 years. This is not about being de-habilitated by grief. This is not about "complicated" or any of those pathological terms often applied to grief when the person cannot "get over it" in some random time frame set by one professional or another. This is about grief that is real and is with us as we live the rest of our lives without our loved ones. This is grief that ebbs and flows as you work, commute on the ferry, go to the park, see art at the museum, eat, drink, sleep, create, fall in love, fall out of love, make friends, join adventure groups, or whatever else you end up doing with your full, functioning self after the death of a loved one. This is about doing some or all of those things AND at the same time acknowledging that it still sucks that your loved one isn't here. Knowing that it is totally and completely normal to feel funky as the fifth Christmas rolls around and your child is still dead and you are still here. This is about knowing that you can honor the holiday AND still miss your child AT THE SAME TIME.
Look the bottom line is this: Any death requires that we incorporate a whole new reality into the reality we were living when the person was still alive. If the death happened to be sudden, unexpected or violent, there is a plunge into that new reality that is like being dropped into the cold waters of Puget Sound. If the death happened to be the death of a child, then the plunge is not only about learning to live without your child, but also about redefining your sense of parenthood -- a role you were prepared to have for the rest of your life.
So all of this redefinition and new reality stuff takes a long time to set in. It just does. Grief isn't just about surviving the first holiday season with your loved one -- it is about surviving the 20th holiday season without them and still remembering them, still missing them. And one of the ways we survive and even go on to thrive in our role as living, breathing people is to give voice to grief over time. The re-telling of the loss, death, and loved one is a repetition that helps us to make sense of how we are to live fully AND at the same time honor the ways our life has been impacted by death.
In poetic terms, I encourage you to use poetry or prose for your story telling. Write letters or poems on each birthday, for each holiday season, whenever you are missing the deceased. You might share something with them that you saw -- a bright Fall leaf, the fog rolling in on a misty, cold morning, a huge frog making morning noises, whatever. You might share your life with them -- where you live now, what you do now, how their life and death have changed you. And I encourage you to keep those poems and letters. I encourage you to go back to them after a year or 5 or 10 or 20 and read them all again. Look at the path your voice has made.
And even more than just writing, I encourage you to find someone you can fully trust -- a good friend, a partner, therapist -- but someone who will HONESTLY AND TRULY understand and respect your process -- and then share these works with them by reading them out loud to them. Giving verbal voice to these writings can be a *very* powerful experience. For you AND for them. *NOTE: If they don't understand or try to shut you down or make you feel guilty or say things about how you "should be getting over this" or anything that doesn't feel respectful of your voice, then stop sharing with them and find someone you can really trust!!!* This is not about adding guilt to grief. This is about sharing your real self and your new reality, as it unfolds, with some other caring being.
So your challenge this month: Knowing that the holidays are coming, how are you going to give voice to your redefined life? Are there ways you can use writing to honor the dead and honor the holidays at the same time? Can you use your voice to talk or write about how the holidays are different now from when your loved one was still alive? How do you feel about those differences? Are there things you wish to incorporate into your new reality? Are there ways to incorporate memorial and celebration into the holidays? After all, isn't Christmas about celebrating the life of a man who died a very long time ago? Isn't Chaunaka about celebrating rituals created by people who lived and died a very long time ago? Isn't Halloween rooted in Day of the Day and All Soul's Day -- both traditions about celebrating the dead? Hmmm? If so, then why would you be forbidden from writing about and giving voice to people who lived and died in your very own lifetime?
This is YOUR reality re-defined. Make it what you will!
Miracles to you,
L.C. Jones, Dakota's Mommy