Monday, September 27, 2010

Grief, renewal, pain, and R.E.M.


(HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: These notes were originally scribbled down in December of 2009 for TT@8. How and why they are only seeing the light of day now is a mystery to me. Maybe the timing is finally right.)

Recovery from grief. How do we recover when the world just hits us square between the valves of our hearts so hard that we never, ever, believe we will feel normal again.

Although I have written before about pain and grief (see here, herehere, here, here), I don’t think I’ve ever really delved in to what it means, for me, to start to recover from these soul-shattering moments: some of the steps that it takes, some of the stages I have to go through, and never necessarily in this sequence. Your mileage may vary, but there may be some shared ideas contained here.

TIME: For the most part, our culture wants us to deal from grief, preferably sooner rather than later, even if that means we don’t recover with it fully. Taking time off work or school after the loss of a loved one? Even if the uber-popular lie “I’m fine” is somewhat applicable for the moment, there may be underlying pain that has yet to surface that only time, reflection, and introspection can bring to the surface. Both while I was a student and as an advisor, I’ve known many people who, after a tragic loss, wind up withdrawing from school. Some of their peers and professors immediately questioned IF this is was the wisest course of action; after all, this could affect their graduation date, chances of getting into a professional or graduate program, or overall grade point average. I’m the lunatic who always advocated taking the time needed, be it away from school or off work. If appropriate grieving does not take place, the pain could soon be substituted with anger, guilt or depression.

TEARS: Ecclesiastes 7:3 states “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.” In their song “Sad Face,” the choir takes it one step further by adding, “It alright; you don’t have to smile.” You have these emotions for a reason. I know that they area visible, tangible sign that, no, not everything is all right. However, tears cleanse both the soul and the emotions. There’s a reason why you sometimes feel this sense of release after a good cry.

TALK: Not just to yourself, inside your own head. Don’t just limit yourself to internal monologues. Journaling is good. Kids sometimes express their emotions they don’t have words for through painting. This doesn’t mean you have to run out and get a box of crayons – but have you ever noticed that sometimes, especially in high school, the most beautiful, intricate art we ever created on the edges of notebooks and the covers of journals came out of pain?  Even friends who may not fully understand what you’re feeling can listen to you talk.

TOUCH: R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” remains one of the most beautiful, haunting songs I have ever heard, and had iPods existed back in the 1600’s when I was in college, it would have stayed in permanent fixed rotation on my playlist. The accompanying video still gives me chills whenever I watch it; one of the most striking moments comes right at the start of it, as the song begins. There is a closeup of a hand on Michael Stipe’s shoulder, squeezing it. Not in a flexing of the muscles kind of way, but in that supportive, loving, “I am here for you” touch that close friends give one another when needed. Sometimes, in the deepest, darkest moments of our own grief, the simple act of a hand touching you can remind you in ways that words epically fail at that you are not alone. Emotionally you may feel it, but here: here is your tether back to love. To life.

TRUST: You are in a stage of rediscovering part of yourself. You are beginning to discover how you will cope with the future. Dealing with loss is in some ways the acceptance of a void coming into your life. Like I used to counsel students who were either applying for RA positions or for graduate scholarships: trust in the process. Trust that these stages are here for a reason, and that no, you may not LIKE some of the results, but they are there for a reason. And trust in yourself to be able to handle these results. Mark Heard once sang, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.” It’s a nice sentiment, but unless you trust in those words, they just remain a pretty poem set to music.

TOLL: Grief takes a lot out of you. Appetites for life and for food sometimes wane. You feel the pressure bearing down on you. You feel a lead weight deposited in your chest. Grief is as much physical as it is spiritual; therefore, the answer to recovering from it must contain components of both. That thick casserole dish of comfort food, that pint of Haagen-Daas calling your name, that “just one more glass/bottle/mug” – all of these can help, in easy-to-handle-and-manage doses, but don’t discount the need your body and soul have for cleansing. Eat healthy (or at least comparatively healthier). Exercise might be out of the picture, but walk. Outside. Breathe deep.

It’s kind of poetically relevant that I’m writing this at the end of the academic semester. Just as with grief, we are dealing with the end of one cycle. However, we also must remember that as one ends, so another begins.

Loss must yield to renewal. 


2 comments:

Lindsay said...

Sonny, your words are so true. When my dad died of AIDS when I was 13 years old, my family basically said "Lindsay is smart, she'll deal with it fine." Four years later, after suppressing the grief that I had no idea as a teenager how to handle, I came completely unglued and nearly failed out of high school. A few years after that I teetered on the edge of suicide (and probably drove your wife completely batty, too!) It has probably taken me until somewhere around the time of my marriage 6 years ago to finally work through all of the emotions and depression and finally have some peace. Of course I wish that as a kid I had known how to grieve, and appreciate your wisdom on the topic here.

Lindsay said...

Sonny, your words are so true. When my dad died of AIDS when I was 13 years old, my family basically said "Lindsay is smart, she'll deal with it fine." Four years later, after suppressing the grief that I had no idea as a teenager how to handle, I came completely unglued and nearly failed out of high school. A few years after that I teetered on the edge of suicide (and probably drove your wife completely batty, too!) It has probably taken me until somewhere around the time of my marriage 6 years ago to finally work through all of the emotions and depression and finally have some peace. Of course I wish that as a kid I had known how to grieve, and appreciate your wisdom on the topic here.