"...grief is not a problem to be solved, not a condition to be medicated, but a deep encounter with an essential experience of being human." Francis Weller, from The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief
Not a problem to be solved. Not a condition to be medicated.
Yes but how many of us understood that before now? How many of us struggle with that still?
To start, let's be clear. It is not that our methods of managing grief are necessarily wrong. If your grief is incapacitating, then please, see a doctor and determine if medication can help you. If your grief is swallowing you whole, then please know that there are strategies for coping.
What Weller, a psychotherapist and grief counsellor goes on to say is that it's our culture that convinces us that grief is unnatural. Grief becomes problematic, he argues, when the conditions necessary to help us manage it are absent.
How many of you come to this site for the community it offers? How many of you soak in the compassion that's here, the recognition from others that your grief is real and valid but that you have the strength to feel it and heal? Most of you, I imagine. And yet, those communities in which we can share our grief are rare. Despite what we know about the healing power of community, our culture pressures us to "get over it". We're not a society that's comfortable with others' grief or our own. We vilify emotional pain and are masters at avoiding it. We dismiss it as weakness. And so we mask it with anger. We numb it with booze or shopping. Some, like our husbands, distract themselves from emotional pain with infidelity.
And look where that got us.
It is a part of our human experience. No more. No less. It is a season in our lives, sometimes lingering, sometimes surprising us with how quickly it passes. And sometimes, too, surprising us with the gifts it brings, with the lessons it imparts, with the grace it ushers in.
But it needs to be respected. We can't rush it. We have to resist the pressure to "get over it" on another's timeline and instead honor our soul's work, as Weller puts it. Sure it's great to triumph over adversity. We all love a story in which the heroine rises and conquers. But that's never the whole story and we can't gloss over the part where the heroine pulls the covers over her head and sobs great gulping sobs. We can't ignore that, though we can't see the healing on those days, it's taking place beneath those covers, just as a deep cut heals incrementally, invisible to our critical hurry-up eye.
There is no moral failure in grief. Rather there is danger in rushing a crucial part of the human experience of loss. The danger is an unhealed heart. The danger is moving forward when we're not ready, in appearing stronger than we actually are, in trying to stand alone on still wobbly legs.
Rather we should take Weller's advice and rest on that healing ground until we are certain. We need not apologize for the time it takes to heal from our grief, to disentangle the emotions within. (And we need not apologize for the pharmacological help we seek when grief turns toxic for us.)
Rather we should accept this season of grief, no matter how long it lasts, and prepare to recognize the grace that always always appears at the threshold of healing.