I agree with a lot of what Ana wrote in her insightful guest post The Right Way to Grieve. She writes eloquently about an issue that the bereaved know only too well.
The first rule
The principle of ‘there is no right way to grieve’ is the first rule of grief club. It is a way of giving each other reassurance and to act as a counterbalance to those that seek to police our grief with their arbitrary timetables or expect us to be thankful for their bizarre and hurtful platitudes.
It’s about recognising that while there may be many common elements the way grief manifests itself varies over time and depend on circumstance. It follows no set path.
Taming the beast
“It’s like taming a beast. The successes are dubious, the failures calamitous. I might be able to pull it off eventually but it takes all my energy, it’s unclear how long it will be, and I’m not really sure how to do it.”
Make no mistake, grief is a beast. It lurks werewolf-like within ready to howl at the cruelty of it all or tear the flesh from the bones of those unlucky enough to awaken its dormant fury.
Unlike the werewolves of folklore it needs no moon to be unleashed. It can be anything, an offhand remark, an unwanted bit of advice, even a mirror will do: a snatched glance shows me the shadow of my babies’ features in my own and a silent howl of sorrowful rage builds within me.
There’s no silver bullet for this beast. It is immortal and in a way that’s comforting. It can sheathe its claws and keep me warm, soothing me with the knowledge that its terrible power reflects the depth of my love for my sons.
We are not ready for drowning
Writing about it helps to shape and make sense and set down our shifting treacherous memories before the fade or twist again but in doing so we revisit the most painful and raw part of ourselves. A flow of stories quickly becomes a river carrying me with it.
By immersing myself in the stories of others there is a chance of redemption. I can offer my hand to those being pulled down by the undertow and offer comfort as they sit shivering on the banks before they dive back into the sadness all the while knowing that I too will follow them in time.
There are times when that river passes through a tunnel and the anguished howls of the bereaved echo from the walls. There is solace in that sound but also a hidden danger that the howls reinforce each other without question and drown those urging them back from the brink.
The second rule
Members of the this terrible club have a duty to make the unwanted membership less shitty for everyone. The more difficult question is does that extend to (gently) challenging behaviours that could left unchecked become unhealthy? How can this be done in a place where the first rule is ‘there is no wrong way to grieve’?
As someone who has been pulled along the river for longer and found an uneasy co-existence with the beast within how can I tell someone only weeks or months into their own bleak wilderness that they are aren’t doing it right, that their behaviour while understandable may only isolate them further and turn that river into a whirlpool?
Answering a question with a question
Maybe the answer is to that question is why should I intervene? I think back to when I was in the depths of grief and how I felt when others offered their hand and I wasn’t ready to accept it. If the intensity of the grief is a reflection of the depth of love attempting to minimise its worst excesses with the promise of “it gets better” may feel like a denial of the loss. There may be times when you don’t want to feel better and you feel like jumping in that swirling river and flow with it.
I remind myself that it wasn’t that long ago I felt the same:
“the overwhelming sense of an unnamed feeling of sadness and barbed, wired anger, the desire to finally abandon analysis and just feel the rawness rather than seeking to understand it but at the same time terrified of what may happen if I finally do let go…”
And this brings us from rivers and beasts to the sanctuary of Sands where it was that exact feeling that led me to make the call, to ask for help knowing that the pull was getting too strong to resist alone. It was my first step towards counselling and learning to do what I can to direct my anger in a positive way.
The dirty little secret / This is my truth, tell me yours
It will vary from person to person shifting from one shape to another and it may be that some people need to hear that it gets better. For others it may be anathema.
It doesn’t get better.
Not in the way the uninititiated would understand at least.
“It’s not that the blows stop coming, they just become less frequent. There will be times when those blows will make me stagger, some will floor me and other times it’s more a playful jab to remind me that they were here. I can’t always know when they will come or how I will react when they do but the fact that they do keep coming is reassuring. I haven’t lost the capacity to feel and they are with me, in thought and memory.”