Monday, April 19, 2010

A Grief Observed

C.S. Lewis wrote about his experience with grief in his book, A Grief Observed. After the death of his wife he said, "An odd byproduct of my loss is that I'm aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet...perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers." That observation produces a knowing nod from me. No one has ever actually suggested I should be locked up on some kind of commune until this grief thing passes but I'm not so sure they haven't thought about it while interacting with me over these past 3 years.
When my husband, David died everyone was so kind and understanding. I cried often. (I called it "leaking" and carried a box of tissues with me at all times for about a year). But somewhere between the first and second year of my grief I seemed to have crossed an imaginary line where public grief is no longer to be greeted with understanding kindness. I'm not really sure when I crossed the line but I'm pretty sure I did. If I get teary or (God forbid) cry over my loss I often sense that my emotion is not received well. My grief makes others uncomfortable.
Now I'm just enough of a people-pleaser to not want to make people uncomfortable so I have learned in the third year of grief to give expression to it only when I'm alone and not in public. I'm now a "closet griever"!
That sounds wrong. I think it's wrong that I feel the need to suppress honest and appropriate emotional response to a significant loss. Society seems to tell us that if we openly express our feeling of grief that we are immature or overly-emotional or flat out crazy. I don't think giving expression to grief is crazy. I think society's response to grief is crazy!
Truth is I'm not uncomfortable with my tears. I believe God gave us the ability to cry for a purpose and if the death of a loved one isn't one of those purposes then I don't what tears are for. It is not in the honest expression of emotion that we become "crazy" or unhealthy. It is in the suppression and denial of our feelings that we are often driven to unhealthy lifestyles. We pop pills or rush into other activities (shopping and new relationships) to avoid the pain. That's crazy!
So, though Mr. Lewis has a point I'm not going to succumb to societal pressures and deny or suppress my grief. I have given myself to fully feeling what I feel and working through my grief rather than avoiding and denying it. I think I'm healthier for it. It's not been pretty or neat but it has been honest and healthy.
So how are you doing with expressing grief? It's tough. It's ugly and messy and sometimes embarrassing. I remember having to flee from a Hallmark card shop because something I read caused me to break out in a tsunami of tears. I'm pretty sure they thought I was crazy. Oh well... grief happens sometimes. All I know is that grief in all its messy, ugly parts is still the only healthy, reasonable response to life's losses.
We grieve. It's the only response that makes sense. Now if only the folks that have to observe our grief could understand a little longer. Who decided where that line should be placed anyway? Perhaps some of us need to grieve longer or shorter. Who's to say what is right or appropriate here?
As I grapple with all that stuff I turn to God to help me plow through and maybe even make some sense of it along the way. I am thankful that God doesn't have time limit on my grief and even helps me laugh and smile through much of it. Apparently tears don't rattle God. I am truly thankful for that. Aren't you?


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