Steven and Sean on the Polar Bear Cam
Steven and Sean on the Polar Bear Cam

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The myth of managing grief

School is back in swing.

So far, things this year are smoother for Steven. Since I last wrote, I'm another year older and so is Steven.

Life takes us to difficult places sometimes.

Our friend Regina's tumor may be growing again, her MRI was inconclusive and Regina will have further testing on Sunday. Her family is under a lot of stress right now.

Another friend, a little girl named Hadley up in Oregon, is dying from her brain tumor. Hadley happens to be a distant cousin of Stevie, who died in April 2007 from a different sort of brain tumor. Hadley's tumor went undiagnosed for several years, she was diagnosed as autistic, but in the end it turned out the autism was brain damage caused by the tumor.

Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

I'm going to Solvang this weekend with my mother and my two sisters Janet and Elizabeth, a girls-only trip, for my mother's 80th birthday.

More later, with photos.

For today, in honor of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I'm going to copy an article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in April 2002.


The myth of managing grief

URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2002/04/07/ED89714.DTL

Stephanie Salter

Sunday, April 7, 2002

Not long ago, a friend in New York said that she often feels cut off from the rest of the country because Sept. 11 is still so much with most New Yorkers.

"We've all gotten on with our lives, and if you don't go down to the (World Trade Center) site, there are no visible traces," she said. "But there's still so much grief and sadness hanging in the air."

People outside of New York can't really understand, said my friend.

"You talk with them and, if you didn't lose someone directly in the twin towers, it's like their tone says, 'Hey, shouldn't you be moving on?' They don't get that there's a collective grief. I actually prefer it when people don't even ask how it's going. It's easier."

Our American culture boasts many virtues and several strong suits, but grieving -- collectively or individually -- isn't one of them.

Unlike older societies, we have few formal grieving rituals in place to guide us. So, we try to tackle grief in our typical American way -- as if it's a problem to be solved, an illness to be cured, an unnatural, machine-gumming breakdown that needs to be fixed, ASAP.

Perhaps more phobic about suffering than any society in history, Americans tend to start the clock ticking early in "managing" grief. While solicitous and caring of the newly bereaved, we encourage heartbroken mates and parents to medicate themselves so they can "keep it together" through the funeral.

This ignores the fact that wailing and keening and "losing it" are a pretty accurate rendering of what humans inside feel like when someone we love dies or leaves us. But, in our culture, public wailing and keening are considered bad forms; they are seen as unwelcome reminders of pathology among "healthy" people.

Even the most devastating loss -- that of a child by a parent -- seems to carry an unwritten statute of limitations on grief, something I learned several years ago when I reported on an international organization called Compassionate Friends.

Founded in England in the late 1960s, the massive support network's chapters provide something that bereaved parents and siblings can't get from the rest of the world: "unconditional love and understanding" (as its informal credo states) with no expiration date.

As one member told me, she knew that a Compassionate Friends meeting was the one place she could go and never hear the unintentionally accusing question, "How many years ago did you say your child died?"

Grief is not like an illness, to be fought and cured with medicine or chemotherapy and radiation. Generalizations can be made about human behavioral tendencies, and time lines can be drawn for predicted "healing," but each person's grieving process is unique.

Some people never "get better." And nobody survives grief unchanged.

As Stephanie Ericsson wrote in "Companion Through the Darkness," grief is "a tidal wave that overtakes you, smashes down upon you with unimaginable force, sweeps you up into its darkness, where you tumble and crash against unidentifiable surfaces only to be thrown out on an unknown beach, bruised, reshaped."

Or, as a man who lost his 7-year-old son once confided, "I'd always thought of myself as a happy man, but that's gone now. We have moments of happiness, some of them long and filled with laughter, but the sense of what is lost is never far away."

In her book, Stephanie Ericsson also warned:

"Grief makes what others think of you moot. It shears away the masks of normal life and forces brutal honesty out of your mouth before propriety can stop you. It shoves away friends and scares away so-called friends and rewrites your address book for you."

- Kathleen

3 Comments:

Blogger Catherine said...

Thank you for that article; my grandfather (who basically helped raise me), passed away this past April from bain cancer. I wasn't sad at the funeral because he was gone, I was sad because I knew my mother would miss him terribly. I am going to forward that article to her. I am sure she will be touched.

Thanks again for your inspiration.

September 12, 2008 7:06 AM  
Blogger kmc said...

happy birthday...

this is the saddest song I've ever heard.

we live pretty close to NY. every town, every single town by us lost people. On this day in 2001 I drove to a street in my town where I could see the skyline, and the hole...the hole in MY skyline, it was just a big cloud in the middle of the horizon. I never knew NYC without the towers...

the grief is still so here. Pieces of the towers sit in towns here, memorials, fragments of before.

thanks...been realizing recently that my address book has shrunk in 4 years. I am scary. Nice to know I'm not the only one...but sigh already.

thinking of you a lot as school starts. G is doing ok so far; her teacher runs a pretty laid back program, G is happy and not drowning in homework.

this song is so sad...
peace,
K, G's mom

September 13, 2008 8:05 PM  
OpenID lwann said...

Thanks for this article. It definitely reflects my reality. By the way, Kathy, thank you for all the comments. Your observations give me a lot to think about.

Lisa

September 21, 2008 4:43 PM  

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