There is no one way to grieve.
There is no right way to grieve.
Everyone experiences grief in different ways.
Some people let themselves grieve in a physical way. Some clinicians refer to them as “intuitive” grievers. Another word for this type of griever could be “emotional”. Their grief is on display, not held back.
Intuitive grievers express feelings that are intense. Crying is probably the most common expression, and it mirrors how they are feeling.
Typically, in our culture, expressing grief in this way is considered a female response, rather than male. That also can imply weakness.
Crying is not the only physical manifestation of grief for an emotional griever. They may experience prolonged periods of confusion, inability to concentrate, disorganization, and disorientation. Their physical exhaustion and anxiety may be obvious.
This description may fit you, or someone you know. If it does, rest assured that you are not alone.
Well-meaning others may try to force you to stop expressing yourself this way. Let yourself grieve at your own pace. It’s healthy and right for you.
We’ll consider other grieving styles in future posts.
|“Firefighter Pew” at St. Paul’s Chapel, near Ground Zero|
Karen M. Seeley’s book, Therapy after Terror: 9/11, Psychotherapists, and Mental Health,
(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008) explores a relatively invisible group of September 11 survivors: therapists.
New York City was overwhelmed by the need for mental health professionals to help survivors and witnesses cope with the horror of the attacks. To their credit, many came forward in the city as well as from other parts of the country. But helping those who grieve after a terror attack presented challenges never before considered.
Most of the therapists were “outsiders”. Firefighters, already a tight-knit, closed society, were unwilling to talk to anyone outside of the department (assuming they talked at all). Unless you were one of them, you didn’t ‘get it’. There was no way they were taking time off to grieve, when their department had been decimated and needed them.
Survivors, who may have lost dozens of co-workers and friends, didn’t know what to do with their grief. They attended memorial services, but without a body to see, had a hard time accepting that a death had occurred. Their grief was delayed, extended, and a source of chronic physical and emotional strain. But in the meantime, they had to pick up the slack at work, making up for the loss of co-workers. For many, the real grieving didn’t begin for a year or more.
Forgotten in all of this were the therapists who tried to help. Few were prepared for the complex issues they faced. Few were prepared to sit in their office, and listen to their patients recount stories of absolute horror…multiple times a day…day after day after day. If it’s true that ‘no good deed goes unpunished’, this is a great example.
You didn’t have to work in the World Trade Center or Pentagon to be a survivor, to be directly affected by what happened on that clear, blue Tuesday morning. If you or someone you know survived, be gentle. The upcoming 10th annniversary is bound to reopen those wounds.
You would probably be surprised by the number of friends you’ve had in your life: friends from your neighborhood, your school, your church, your first job, your sports team, your theatre group.
But life being what it is, you lose touch, maybe geographically separated, maybe just slipping away because your interests changed.
Then you go to a reunion, or a party. You skim the alumni newsletter. And you discover they’ve died.
Your first reaction may be shock, but your second reaction is likely to be a memory. It might be a memory that now seemed eerie. It might also be a silly or funny memory.
My husband and I sat in Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, three days after 9/11, for an inter-faith service. Just minutes before walking in, I’d found out a classmate from high school was in the South Tower, and missing. By then, we knew that meant she was dead.
As I sat there during the beautiful service, trying unsuccessfully to not cry, a thought kept popping into my mind. We’d gone to an all-girls high school, and one of the things that passed for entertainment in those days was a Hairy Legs Contest (those who didn’t have boyfriends had the best chance of winning).
I was mortified. Could there have been a more inappropriate thought at that moment?
A month later, I was having dinner with a group of my classmates, as we discussed a class gift in Carol’s memory. There, in the safety of friends, I admitted my sacrilegious thoughts. Don’t you remember, one of the women said to me, Carol won the contest.
That may qualify as eerie and silly. But I share it to assure you that these kinds of thoughts are not unusual. At a moment when all around you are crying, and you think you should, too, it’s all right to have a happy memory of your friend who died.
Because in the end, the happy memories are the ones we want others to have of us, too.
I’m on an A to Z blog challenge, and today is the 4th day of the challenge. That explains the pithy title. 😉
I didn’t know when I decided to write my book that there was such a thing as “disenfranchised grief”, coined by Dr. Kenneth Doka of the College of New Rochelle, in 1989. In the 2002 revision of his Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow, Dr. Doka observes how the grief a friend experiences can be dismissed:
“Often there is no recognized role in which mourners can assert the right to mourn and thus receive such support. Grief may have to remain private. Though they may have experienced an intense loss, they may not be given time off from work, have the opportunity to verbalize the loss, or receive the expressions of sympathy and support characteristic in a death.”
Sometimes the disrespect is intentional, sometimes not. But you’ve probably experienced the following situation:
“The role of the friend or similarly close relationship may simply be ignored – unrecognized or unacknowledged. Such persons may attend the funeral. They may even be expected to be there out of respect for the deceased and in support of the family. But they remain passive participants, their own need to mourn overlooked.”
So, if it makes you feel better, there is a reason your grief felt compounded by the lack of respect you experienced. Grieving a friend is not acknowledged in the same way as grieving a family member.
It’s up to all of us to let those around us know the importance of our friendships and the depth of our grief. Then and only then will grieving a friend receive the respect it deserves.
For many people – certainly anyone under 40 – it feels like AIDS has been around forever. With the spread of the disease around the world, the media focus has actually dimmed. Rarely do you hear of celebrities dying of AIDS. With the development of the so-called AIDS “cocktail” of drugs, those infected can live much longer, healthier lives than anyone could’ve predicted 30 years ago.
On July 3, 1981, a story appeared in the New York Times on Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a rare cancer affecting gay men. It is on that day that the film Longtime Companion opens.
The first feature-length film addressing the AIDS epidemic, Longtime Companion follows a group of friends through the 80’s. We see the denial, the ignorance, the fear, the randomness of infection, through the eyes of people who were most affected. The grief at times is overwhelming.
The story is told through a series of vignettes, alternating between New York City and Fire Island, as the group of friends slowly grows smaller. We learn the various names given to the puzzling and frightening afflictions: gay cancer, gay plague, and the official “Gay Related Immune Disorder”, or GRID.
It is a painful film to watch, but the deathbed scene where Bruce Davison urges his partner, Mark Lamos, to let go, was certainly what earned him an Academy Award nomination. It’s worth renting it just for those few minutes.
The title of the film, to those not old enough to remember, may seem odd. But at the time, most newspapers refused to acknowledge same-sex relationships in obituaries. The venerable New York Times referred to the surviving partner as a “longtime companion.”
There are several excellent films that address AIDS: Philadelphia, And the Band Played On, Peter’s Friends, At Home at the End of the World. We’ll look at all of them and others over the coming months, as we commemorate 30 year of AIDS.