Monday, August 4, 2008

Godless Grief- It's Okay to Feel

When we're sitting at home and realizing that we have to face people for the first time in a group situation after the news hits us-- perhaps it's just after learning that we have a friend in a hospital, or perhaps it's when we are summoned by a university to attend a massive convocation and vigil-- but we have to somehow find it in ourselves to face other people, despite our own shock, and our own pain.

The way we personalize our pain is unique. No one has a correct way to grieve. If someone is telling you "Oh, yes, well you're in X phase", chances are, you are not. You are in whatever phase you are in for that moment, in that time, in that day. One minute you may be laughing at a joke you had never even thought about since you were ten years old. The next you may find yourself huddled in bed and absolutely resolved never to leave. Either is perfectly okay, and both are absolutely the right way to feel.

But we aren't always given the luxury of our own time, and our own space. We aren't always allowed to be by ourselves, and that can man our grief is now a public affair. How are we supposed to keep it together when we are put in a situation such as a public funeral? Or what about being in a hospital, when a friend or a child is possibly never coming home alive? What is expected of us, and how are we supposed to behave when we have no idea what our emotions will lead us to think or react towards at any given moment?

First, you are around other people who are likely just as confused and as lost as you are. There are likely people who are naturally drawn to certain roles in these situations. Some are going to be the ones who play strong, silent leaders. Others will be quietly taking in the events around them, generally shocked or just holding off any response until they feel safe. Still others will be the basket cases, tossing out a variety of reactionary responses based on a number of catalysts including everything from the lighting to their own family history. Some of us are good at living in the moment, or are seeking out others to care for so we don't have to deal with our own pain until it is a time when we are feeling stronger. All of these roles is correct, and all of these roles should be expected. This is why you often find one family member taking up the cause of handling the details of funerals and feasts, and perhaps one stirring drama and another even missing altogether. These roles naturally occur during tragedy as they do weddings, or any emotionally charged event.

It is okay to be the one who doesn't attend the funerals. The person who doesn't attend is often the one who is given the cold shoulder by other family members, and I find that reaction appalling. To me this is the brave act of a person who understands his own ability of grieving. If he has no reason to seek closure through a funeral then I see no reason why he should be expected to attend one. Those who seek him are doing so for their own reasons, which can be tended to at any other time. Guilt has no place in grief. It's a very cruel tool that is used to manipulate others and certainly should not be used during times of sorrow.

And, it's okay to be the one who is emotional during time of sorrow and confusion. Men who have emailed me are never the ones who are embarrassed over tears. The people who complain more about tears tend to be those who have never shed them. I find those who are most likely to be afraid to cry are older women, those who have held families together as single parents, or those who have lived and fought as female soldiers. There's almost a wall built that won't allow them to be weak for enough time to acknowledge that their fear or sorrow. For what it's worth, I am now giving these women, and anyone permission to feel whatever pain and sorrow they need to feel. And, I give you all permission to cry if that is what you need.

Crying is not a physical action. The act of crying is a physiological reaction that has a chemical reaction not unlike that of some antidepressants. It helps to release some of the triggers in our minds that allows us to feel the painful sadness. Animals cry. We are animals. We forget this sometimes. But we have a biological need to do what animals do to function as a healthy being. This includes crying. If you do not think you have the right to cry, I am giving you the permission slip, and you have that right. You are as human as I am, and in your humanity, you own that right.

It's okay to scream, and yell. Anger is a part of grief. Anger directed at something positive, like something that helps you grow stronger, such as physical fitness or even singing to a recording, or screaming into a pillow, is perfectly normal, and even expected. Anger often causes people to move forward to actions. Actions that have come from anger include the creation of the United States, the recording of multiple albums, the Live Aid events, and millions of other positive changes of random order which popped into my head at the thought of it.

None of these emotions comes in any particular order. Some may even hit you when you are at these functions which you are expected to attend. It's up to you to determine how you should respond to the events at hand. Do you need to restrain the emotions you have just to get through, for the sake of children, or those around you? Is the event being televised? Do you have to wear specific clothing? Do you want to wear something that reflects your emotions if you are unable to express them verbally?

Remember, no one has been through the exact moment you are going through and you are the only one who can judge your own reactions. But whatever you feel, and whatever you understand, it's okay to feel. As long as you are not harming another person, or yourself, you are absolutely feeling the right things. And if you feel that someone should be harmed, then you may need to talk to someone who is better equipped to help you deal with your reactions. In that case, you can turn to any of the counselors advised by your friends, or family, or even those found on this forum.

Cathe Jones is the author of the book, Godless Grief, and the moderator of the writing group, Las Vegas Quill Keepers. She resides in Las Vegas with her husband, jazz pianist Mike Jones, and is represented by Janet Rosen of Sheree Bykofsky and Associates.

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