Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Period of Mourning

Back in the day, and still today in other cultures, there was/is this assumed, almost mandated period of mourning. There are physical indicators that the family is mourning the loss of a loved one. They may cover all the mirrors in the home. Or wear black. Or abstain from certain social situations. In some areas of the world, widows or widowers wear black for the rest of their lives. Some cultures have different customs depending on what part of mourning the family is in (black clothes at first, switching to grey half way through the mourning period). Grief is experienced on the biological, neurochemical, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual levels. There are hundreds of other ways people around the world do/have mourned their loved ones. Often the time period is at least a year.

While perhaps to some it seems silly to need/want this "how-to" of grieving, this makes so much sense to me. It gives you some direction in how you should act, when heaven knows you're feeling a million things, but none of them are what you should do next. It gets you through all the holidays. All the birthdays. All the seasons. So many of life's events. It gives you a chance to truly grieve. It gives you permission to withdraw some and really deal with the loss. Without outside pressure to "move on".

And, yet, for some reason, this is a cultural practice that we for the most part no longer share in (at least here in the US). And so there is this enormous ambiguity to grief and loss. When should one be ready for this or that? When should we move on? How are we supposed to act? How do we know when we're ready? Or what the hell that even means.

It's all so damn complicated. And I think that sometimes we are compelled to rejoin life well before we're ready, simply because others tell us we should. Or because others force us into it because they have their own ideas of when we should be ready, or what we should be doing. And we, simply because we have no idea ourselves how to grieve,  no frame of reference in which to put our own experience, just go along with it. Even while our guts are screaming that it's wrong. That it's awful. That it's the exact opposite of what we should be doing.

But none of us really know what we should do. (And have I mentioned before how much I really hate the word "should", and yet it's sometimes the only appropriate word to use). Should we simply allow others to grieve and move on how they need to, regardless of how it is affecting us? But, what if their way of doing it is truly causing additional harm to us, or others we love, or hell, even themselves? What if we see them avoiding, not really grieving? Or is that simply a way of judging someone else, assuming we know what's best for them?

Grief is so complicated. And though I'm sure it always has been very personal and individual, it also seems like it used to be something that people knew how to do. This grief, it isn't something we know how to do. And that leaves us feeling lost. And even more sad. And, in some ways, even more alone in it all.

Today's lesson: Sometimes progress really isn't that at all. Sometimes the "old ways" of doing things are really the best.

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