On Facebook, a friend who has recently lost a long-term mate posted a lament. She had attended a grief-counseling group, wherein she was criticized for sponsoring a series of memorials for him. “You must give yourself time to cry,” she was told.
Responses to her post boiled down to: Screw them, do what you need to do. I agreed, but it set me to thinking how much we subscribe to the slogan, “One size fits all.”
In the face of grief, some people cry their eyes out for days, some sit in stone silence, some busy themselves in particulars, some hire professional mourners. All are particular to the individual, as is grief itself.
I recall flying back to Iowa to my mother’s funeral. I had seen her shortly before she died and scheduled an immediate return to be with her at the end. But it happened too fast. So I changed my reservation, went back to the funeral. I sat there, listened to the preacher drone, viewed the corpse, no tears, little feeling that I could touch—this for the woman who gave me life, who taught me, with her own single-mom grit, to survive, who blessed me with the essence of unconditional love…
Perhaps I felt her character so much a part of me, even though we couldn’t have been more different in many ways. So my grief was different. Or perhaps a part of my inheritance from her was simply to survive, and that meant closing off parts of yourself, so you couldn’t feel. I have always felt more grief for my fictional characters than for those near me. Curious.
On the night of her death 2,000 miles away, I had a vision: she grew progressively younger, from mid-80’s to little girl, and then she smiled, and then she vanished. I personally don’t subscribe to the “looking down from Heaven” idea, but you feel their collaboration in your cellular structure.
I don’t in the least feel that we all know ourselves so well that advice is always unneeded. I personally didn’t know how to perform open heart surgery on myself a few years back—it took some expertise. But the wise doctor is one who’s read the literature, who knows the most likely cure, but who doesn’t insist that the patient die if it doesn’t work.
I once was part of a men’s retreat that featured a “grief” ceremony, allowing men to come forward and express suppressed grief. Very meaningful for some, but as I just stood watching—respectful, I thought—someone approached me and said, in effect, “Let it out.” His intentions, I’m sure, were good, but the tactic was “One size fits all”—good advice for turtles, perhaps, but not for our own mad species.