Grief is unknowable
My heart is heavy these days as I am moving through the lessons that grief is teaching me. The pain that I’m carrying is invisible to those around me, unless they happen to have read a facebook post that I shared from Tracy’s War on Stage IV Lung Cancer.
We each experience grief differently, and yet we can all recognize grief when we see it in others. Most of us dread its intensity and try to avoid it, because it feels intrusive and immersive. As if you could become lost to grief forever, or it could consume you.
Grief never actually goes away because grief is love and we don’t stop loving
We feel helpless in grief. We don’t know what to do for ourselves, nor what to do for others. We don’t know how to help, nor even what to say. Because it can feel overwhelming, frustrating, devastating, to name just a few of the myriad emotions we face. We feel awkward trying to navigate such intense feelings, because it’s confusing and unfamiliar territory.
No right or wrong
I’ve come to see that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. We are often comforted by ritual - traditional practices offer us guardrails and help us feel like we are honoring our loved ones properly. Whether it’s a funeral or memorial, cremation or burial, wake or celebration of life, we get to decide what feels right.
Art journaling allows me to play both storyteller and story-catcher roles in the practice of sharing that is an essential balm in healing grief
You may have read about the five stages of grief as described by Elizabeth Kubler Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. I used to think of these as being progressive, like one stage should follow the next, but it turns out that these are meant to be descriptive terms for the widely ranging sets of emotions and behaviors that we experience. The stages can occur in whatever order, be overlapping, and even be recurring.
David Kessler further offers that there is a sixth stage called Meaning. I used to believe that the term “closure” meant that grief was resolved, and so life could move on. But the reality is that grief never actually goes away for good. Its intensity may lessen over time, but grief is love and we don’t stop loving. So our primary aim in grieving is to try to make sense of our loss, and to rebuild our lives and reality anew.
In Brene Brown’s Atlas of the Heart, she writes about this concept of disenfranchised grief, which refers to the idea that sometimes our human minds see fit to judge losses as being worthy of grieving or not. Examples of losses that may not make the mark may be the loss of a pet, infertility or a lost pregnancy. Or there may be a component of shame or blame associated with the loss, like a divorce or sexual assault.
The worst part of disenfranchised loss is that we bear the burden alone
She goes on to discuss how disenfranchised grief is often invisible to others. And how it encompasses many losses such as the loss of trust, loss of one’s prior worldview, loss of self-identity and self-esteem, loss of sense of safety and security, as well as loss of freedom and independence.
This term resonated deeply with me, as I think about the losses associated with the long goodbye that we caregivers experience when our loved one is living with dementia. My grandma is still living, but she has lost the ability to care for herself. her independence, her ability to appreciate or enjoy so many things she used to love, and she has lost her connection to loved ones. I have lost her love, her trust, and the ability to communicate with her.
And it feels like the worst part of disenfranchised loss is that we bear the burden alone. Depending on our cultural and familial upbringing, it may not be okay to share our sadness with others. That loneliness is a form of stress, and since our brains are the key organ of response to stress, it will eventually take a toll on our brain health.
Even just giving ourselves permission to mourn our losses can be tremendously helpful. I have found journaling to be an excellent tool for helping to unburden my mind, and art journaling is often even more healing, when words fail me. These practices allow me to play both storyteller and story-catcher roles in the practice of sharing that is an essential balm in healing grief.
by Brene Brown
A research-based lexicon describing the experience of human emotion.