calling bullshit on “grief”
“Grief,” I fear, has become a buzz-word.
A trap door for fast escape.
The quick, easy word we can use surrounding loss that gives us a pass to not dive deeper into emotional terrain which would require an unpacking of the spectrum of feelings.
There are times in our lives when Death or other loss visits, and will emotionally deconstruct us, and then, in its own special way, put us back together leaving our mind-heart-soul dangling like a Picasso portrait.
Processing and looking the aftermath of Death deeply in the eyes is exactly what is necessary if we are to do this thing with heart and mind wide-open.
Because Death never forgets our address. It will find us repeatedly, until the final time, when we walk away, hand in hand, with Death.
Contrary to popular psychiatric cop-out, er, belief, love and grief are intertwined. And just as love never dies, at some level, the emotional response to our heart connects’ absence on the planet also never dies.
Yes, it may wax and wane, but their loss will forevermore live within that space where their love resides.
Grief is as individual as each human.
With that, it is important to understand, there are no ground rules for “grief.”
There is no timeline for grief.
Grief becomes an organic entity that will ever morph and never ends.
You may try to bury grief, but it creeps out and shows itself in other areas and calls itself different things, like anger or compulsiveness or _____aholicness or all levels of distracting behavior . . .
Okay I have to stop because this list could go to infinity and beyond. Interestingly, those responses may not give you a psychiatric box ticked for a pathological grief response, but may very well fit the diagnostic criteria for a sundry of other diagnosis.
My impetus for writing this is that I am now emerging from being knocked down by another tidal wave of grief. In fact, I had been held under water of late.
For me, health, pandemic, other deaths, times when I would typically have had my deceased people to process with–– to have my back–– can build that tidal wave. I’m more aware now of the building grief waves, as time goes on, because of my commitment to full-spectrum-living, being alert and aware of the very-very-shitty through to the ecstatic times in my life.
And even as a mental health clinician, I can tell you that we weren’t given much more than a compact explanation of grief with a bizarre and unhealthy focus on recognizing the diagnostic criteria for when it becomes pathological and qualifies for a DSM diagnosis. Click HERE for some of that clinical conversation.
I don’t buy it and it is one reason I call myself a therapist gone rogue.
There was a day, many many days, that my job was to put people and their symptoms into the correct diagnostic box. And from all of my clinical experience, including conversations with other clinicians–– where we agree on now feeling WTF were we doing with our grieving clients before we had experienced deep loss ourselves––I wave a fuck-you-flag at any entity that would rather label one’s story of loss as maladaptive than sit with that story.
Deep loss: the reaction that only you can define for yourself when someone’s death brings you to your knees, their absence restructuring your day to day living and how you walk in the world. That’s what it feels like to me and I know you may define deep loss differently.
I would argue now that the diagnostic criteria would be more effective to centre around people who avoid emotionally processing their deep losses, rather than looking at a prolonged grief process as pathological.
Pathologizing grief is like pathologizing life itself.
One hundred percent of us will be greatly trashed by the death of someone we adore and one hundred percent of us will die.
Acceptance is a huge key in riding the waves of grief: opening our hearts to how grief will have its way with us.
Hell yes, it’s difficult.
But burying our emotional responses to death will light a fire under much more difficult mind-fucks in our lives. The sudden adverse turns in our coping that blindside us and we blame on a million other things.
Thirty-seven years in the helping field and I am here to tell you that with my immersion into the world of death, dying and the aftermath, experiencing my own deep personal loss and creating The Death Dialogues Project and sitting with hundreds of stories, I am almost ready to strike the word “grief” from my vocabulary.
It’s just too easy.
Instead? Just tell me how your heart is. And I will fully understand the ever-changing terrain of the aftermath of death and how quickly our heart and soul’s deep emotions can shift.
Let’s open the conversations and use more expansive language and undivided connection while we honor the lives that have gone before us, openly inquiring and sharing about how our hearts, minds and living have been affected.
You can get some practice sitting with these conversations that we’ve been culturally taught to avoid rather than embrace by listening to the tender stories on The Death Dialogues Project Podcast, as well as deep diving into information and stories shared by other beautiful projects.
Exposure is the most effective form of therapy for those things we are afraid of or feel threatened by.
By sitting with those conversations it normalizes being present with your own loss and grief and that of others.
The deep emotional presence of Death in my life bows to the deep emotional presence of Death in yours.
And I thank all that is good in the Universe that I had people in my life that were so deeply connected to me that my heart and soul are forever changed by their deaths.