Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It's the Little Things

In grief work, it's always the little things that trip you up.

People who have lost a loved one often talk about how they'll be someplace innocuous like the grocery store, when suddenly as they're picking out produce or rounding a corner they catch a glimpse of an individual who looks like their lost loved one.

Of course, it isn't, it never is, but in that split second of almost-recognition, the emotions are so strong they can make your heart skip a beat, make you sob out loud. In a heartbeat you go from being OK as you're picking out milk to being close to losing it, throwing the milk, yelling and howling. Most of the time this doesn't happen. People shove their emotions into some hidden inner place, catch their breath, and continue on as law-abiding citizens, which I guess is often a good thing for the rest of us.

But sometimes the grief can sweep over you with such force that you can't not cry, right there in the shopping mall, library, gym. I have friends who throw plates when things get bad. They all go outside and toss them through the air in their yard. I can imagine that would be pretty cathartic (except for the cleaning-up process!)

Unfortunately in our society, people who are grieving don't have many opportunities for public mourning. Sure, our culture has rituals like holding a memorial service, a viewing of the body, and a burial/scattering of ashes. But that's about it. Most of those activities take place within a few weeks of death, sometimes up to a year. That's pretty short considering you still have to live the rest of your life without the person you lost.

Or what about people who are grieving the loss of a relationship, job, health, the loss of status or safety or the death of a dream? There is nothing, no rite, no standard method of grieving through these losses, much less an acceptable way to publicly broadcast grief. Even many of our churches view grief as something to privately finish, to overcome, to get through. By in large, we are left to fend for ourselves.

I've noticed that for many individuals, including me, observing people exhibit "negative" emotions in public is unsettling, scary. We don't feel safe. Why is this? Is this because we are so afraid to face our own inner darkness, our own sadness, our own disconnectedness that we don't like to see it in others? Do we not want to be reminded that it could be our turn next? It's tough because those of us who are grieving have to mix with the rest of societywe still have to get out of the house and do basic things like attend school, go grocery shopping, and show up to work. We usually look pretty normal until almost anything, anywhere can become a portal to a painful or precious memory, a vivid reminder of what we've lost.

I was talking with some people in the car the other day about what happens when you sleephow your eyes physically roll up back into your head. My sister remarked on how she's developed some mild sleep anxiety due to this semi-disturbing fact, I can agree that it's definitely not the prettiest mental picture to have as you're drifting off to sleep.

Then I thought of Vincent, how as he died his little eyes stayed half-open for days, how they never rolled back, but just gradually lost their sight as he drifted further and further from us. I cried in the car on the way to the shopping center, then pulled myself together when we got there.  Because you should never cry in public. People might think there was something wrong.

Why do you think it isn't acceptable for people to show emotions like sadness or anger in public? Have any of you had an experience where you saw an otherwise normal looking person exhibit some strong emotion? How did it make you feel?


Anonymous said...

Sadly, it is so true about how we are told, in so many unspoken ways, that we are not to cry in public. Just yesterday, I was out to dinner with my husband after leaving a doctor's office. I was recently diagnosed with a rare muscle disease so I am dealing with a loss of health. As I was telling my husband about my appointment, I started to cry but immediately had to wipe my tears when the waitress came to take my order. I didn't want to cry in public. Thank you for your blog, it has already helped me in so many ways as I work through my own grief. I am inspired by your continued faith and encouragement.

Rebecca said...

@ anonymous: Thanks for commenting! I'm so sorry to hear of your recent diagnosis, deep loss comes in so many shapes and forms, it's a shame that we can't be more open in exhibiting our grief. I recently read a statistic talking about how many sinus and ear infections are caused by unshed tears! We need safe places to cry and work through our losses, places where it's acceptable to wear our emotions on our sleeves. Hope you find such places and God Bless you and your family on this new journey.