It should come as no surprise that I receive my fair share of invitations to grief workshops, grief conferences, grief seminars and so forth. One such recent invitation included a description of a grief workshop that kind of -- well, horrified me.
The workshop description was as follows (in part):
"Have you experienced grief? Did you know that all grief is the same and the steps to grief recovery are exactly the same?"
Naturally, my horrified reaction also got me to thinking.
It made me think back to the old days, when pantyhose packages use to say, "One size fits all". My reaction then was pretty much the same as it was when I saw this workshop description:
"This is a joke, right?"
As I tried to absorb this ridiculous workshop description, I allowed myself to drift back in my mind.
Back to a terrible season in time...
It was a rare quiet moment during an otherwise horrendous time that had been filled with people, commotion, doctors, confusion, more doctors, tumult and way too many opinions from way too many people who had no idea what they were talking about.
Dusk was falling outside.
Inside the unlit room, it was quiet.
The idyll broken only by the invasive sounds of monitors and machines.
It was he and I alone -- just the two of us.
He was in a semi-comatose state; not at all conscious, yet periodically calling out in a frightened voice for his mother and one of his sisters.
Like a scared little boy.
It was heartbreaking to hear.
Believing with absolute certainty that he could hear me, I held his hand and spoke calmly to him. I stroked his arm. I periodically kissed his cheek. I told him stories and recounted happy memories of years gone by. Over and over, I repeated that I was right there with him and reassured him that there was no reason to be afraid; that everything was going to be fine.
My outward calm was an award-worthy act.
My eyes brimmed over with tears that burned and slid silently down my cheeks, defying any calm that I was trying to portray.
Inside I was sobbing -- heaving, wracking sobs.
He was dying.
I knew he was dying.
I knew that any hope of him surviving this bastard disease was lost.
The time was approaching -- ominously, stealthily and resolutely.
I had to let go.
Yet, how could l let him go, when all I wanted was for him to stay with me?
How could I possibly go on without the twinkle in his eye that I always saw when I walked into a room?
How could I live without the hugs?
The corny jokes?
The barbecue Sundays that had become ritual?
The absolute, undeniable, unconditional love?
Indeed, I was crying like a baby... which made perfect sense.
He is after all... my daddy.
I suppose this is the point where I should yell, "Gotcha!" because you likely thought I was speaking of my late husband. Tragically, this story is true as it is written. This very scenario took place four months after I buried my late husband. I was already a grieving widow and now... a grieving daughter as well.
Given this particular set of circumstances, I am therefore here to testify out loud and very noisily:
All grief is not the same...
...and I further believe that to state (or to teach) otherwise is irresponsible.
I realize that our death-denying, loss-discussion-avoiding society (which apparently now includes so-called "experts") would much prefer that grief -- any and all kinds of grief -- to be packaged nicely and neatly and wrapped up with a big black bow. In other words, all grief should be lumped together, thereby significantly shortening (or denying altogether) the necessity to grieve individual losses as what they actually are:
Did I grieve the loss of my father in the same ways that I grieved the loss of my husband? Absolutely not and with good reason -- to one I was a wife and to the other, a child. How can anyone asserting authority on the subject of loss be capable of implying that all losses are the same (or even parallel)... and then go on to claim that the steps to all grief recovery are "exactly the same", regardless of the kind of loss involved. The complexion of grief is different because every single loss perspective is different.
Take a moment and have a quick look back over your life. Have you lost:
A spouse (husband, wife, fiancé(e) or life partner)?
Any family members at all?
A dear friend?
A home (whether by disaster or due to financial challenge)?
A serious relationship?
A marriage (due to divorce)?
A physical capability?
Most of us have lost at least one thing on that list and every single one of these losses deserves to be grieved accordingly. However, would you color all of these various kinds of loss (and the subsequent grief) with the same brush?
I certainly would not.
Teaching that "all grief is the same" is essentially denying people the right to grieve each loss individually -- and that is just plain unfair. Further, to state that all grief is the same is a polite way of saying, "Throw all of your losses into one big pile of misery, get your crying done and over with, hurry it up and just get on with it"... and that is unfair too.
(...not to mention, rude, insensitive, unthinking and destructive to a bereaved person's healing journey).
My fervent hope of course is that no one has to experience catastrophic loss of any kind. However, if by chance you have been or are beset with any kind of tragedy, please hear my heart while you affirm the following:
A "Get Real About Grief" Affirmation:
I recognize that:
1. All grief is not the same and therefore, my steps to grief recovery are not and will not be the same.
2. I am entitled to grieve each and every loss as the individual and unique losses that they are because my loss perspectives and relationships to each loss are individual and unique.
3. Losses are not like purchasing limits set during sales at grocery stores. I am therefore not limited in the number of losses that I need to mourn and I will not allow anyone to place any such limits on me.
4. As long as I am not coping in a destructive manner, I will grieve any and all losses in any manner that I see fit, regardless of what people around me say or think.
They were two men.
I was wife to one and daughter to the other.
They were two separate, distinct and unbearably difficult losses.
I recognized and grieved those two losses as such.
All grief is not the same.
And just as with the pantyhose,
One grief does not "fit all".
Let no one convince you otherwise.
Carole's latest book, "Happily Even After..." is the winner of the prestigious Books for a Better Life Award. For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit www.widowswearstilettos.com and www.carolefleetspeaker.com
Watch for Carole's third book coming in 2015.
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