On the steps of grieving and “doing it right.”

This starts on facebook. I spend an inordinate amount of time posting stupid stuff, arguing, reading… I post pictures I take on my phone of my morning walk, because it is beautiful. I check it throughout the day to see what people are doing, what they are eating or thinking… or to see if there is another funny cat video.

And it isn’t necessarily all bad. There are half a dozen grief oriented groups… The Compassionate Friends network, TCF-loss to suicide, grieving fathers, grieving mothers… I read those- people like me who have lost someone and are trying to figure it all out. And so it was this morning…

A woman who lost a very young child to SIDS two years ago is lamenting… she is “losing” her second therapist. (How do you lose a therapist?) She recounts how difficult it was for the first year, but how she had returned to work, and things seem to be better…. but how she still had these emotional moments of uncontrollable crying or random outbursts of rage. He thinks she is “stuck in denial” and “isn’t working the steps.” She doesn’t appear to be abusing drugs or damaging her relationships… but I guess there is a problem.

The responses to her post were all compassionate. Some with a tinge of anger… most with the sort of wise understanding that may sound cliche- do things your own way, find another therapist, this one is an idiot, there are no steps, take it easy on yourself… along with a spattering of very similar experiences. I did not add anything. I just read the voices of a dozen grieving people and recognized myself in some of the words.

What kind of gets me about these kinds of posts is this strange idea from well meaning people like her therapist… good sympathetic people for the most part that really care and really do want to help, that some how there is a way to do this right. Some are professionally trained, others are religiously “wise” and have a good working knowledge of something useful… but few have that bit of experience- the loss of one of their own- that would push their sympathy into the world of empathy. And although they can be helpful and words can soothe, this idea that there is some right way to do any of this- I find annoying, upsetting… irksome. And much of the advice even begins, “everyone grieves in his or her own way.”

People who know, know that there is no timetable. There is no “normal path”… there is no magic fix. To a parent that lost a child yesterday, or a year ago, or a decade ago… the reality of grieving is that no number of “steps” will ever bring him or her back. The loss is permanent… and even though the event may have occurred somewhere in the past, the present will always remain significantly bereft… and mere words or concepts or even the best scripture or advice can’t ever fill that void.

So fuck doing it right. You aren’t doing it right? Do it, don’t do it, do it wrong, do it way fucking wrong and you will wake up, perhaps with extra consequences, but pretty much in the same situation you were in yesterday. You are going to need to work it out… and there isn’t some clean and easy way to do it.

And steps? Five steps, seven steps, nine steps… ??? It seems as if some brilliant people with good vocabularies sat down and wrote all the conflicting and complex emotions that go with grief… they untangled the emotional wreckage and gave names to the ineffable mix of anguished utterances, moans, and wordless grimaces… and then numbered the words. It is nice to have words sometimes. But if someone is sitting in some chair wanting you to fit their paradigm and match your emotions with their words… fuck that. Fuck steps. Take steps. Take five, or nine, or a hundred. But again, you are going to have to work it out.

And that isn’t to say that you should do it without the help of those you love… who haven’t left you yet, or the help of professionals. That doesn’t mean that the way you chose to grieve can’t be some classic model involving talking to someone with a notepad who walks you through five steps. Or that it can’t mean meeting with a groups of compassionate people of faith who regularly pray for you… who share your tears and love you- even if all you do is stare and fidget during meetings. That doesn’t mean that God won’t heal you, or that you should abandon faith… and that doesn’t mean that you can’t see a doctor and take his advice and prescriptions. If it works, it works. You grieve in your own way… should mean that any of this is acceptable. If that is how you work it out, that really is what you must do…

After all, what is the goal? Is it to have a productive life? To be healthy and have good relationships? To be happy?
I think what all grieving parents will eventually recognize is that in these goals is the realization that life will never be the same, and that they will never be the same. You aren’t going to find “normal” here… it isn’t a place you can go back to.  And for some people there is a hard reality in this hard journey… that whatever new semblance of normal they find may not be anything they recognize or have wanted in the past.

People lose relationships they have cherished- marriages fail, children become estranged, friends disappear. Others fall into some kind of addictive behavior or substance abuse. Others find the sudden necessity to change careers, or move to a different location. And telling these people that they aren’t doing it right probably isn’t very helpful.

I lost a friend because they insisted that if you took medication for depression, you aren’t doing it right. That if you trusted God, He would heal your depression. You don’t need pills. You don’t need therapy. Do it right with God. Pray the right prayer. Yield the right amount of control… Fuck that. If you need pills to keep from blowing your brains out… take the pills. See the therapist. If you are alive today, in whatever condition… consider that you have done at least something right to get here.

Beyond the anger of what I was feeling to this unnamed and now lost therapist… I don’t have much to add. We make mistakes. Sometimes bad mistakes with horrible disproportionate consequences that we have to live with and adjust to. What if none of us is doing it right? What then? What if we don’t do the right steps and lock in with the rest of the world. What if this is it, and we are all we have? What then? If you are alive… then you have done at least something right… then you have to have hope.

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