Everyone grieves at some point in their lifetime.  In fact, it’s a common emotion with many different variations just like there are multitudinous types of sadness, happiness, or anger.  We can grieve the loss of a pet, a friend, an opportunity, a phase of life, a career, a toy, or a loved one, just to point out a few reasons.  But in our culture grieving in any meaningful way that affects daily life has become almost taboo.  Partly I believe because of TV and movies which focus on drama and heighten/shorten events for impact, people believe that grieving is like a rainstorm.  It happens in the moment, sweeps everything in its path, and then moves on leaving things changed but renewed.

Well, grieving isn’t a rainstorm.  Grieving is like healing from a serious injury.   There’s the initial event, the impact that causes the damage.  Then there’s the pain and the need for immediate care and support.  And those are the parts we focus on culturally.  We’re shown and subliminally taught that grieving should be about tears and ‘stiff upper lip’ and just keep on with life like normal. But grieving isn’t a short-term thing.  After the initial pain recedes, when the people recede and the trauma and support wane, there is then the long-term rehabilitation.  The emotions that come and go for seemingly random reasons.  The ghost pain when something occurs and you realize that how you would have handled it, the person you would have turned to for sharing, are no longer there and never coming back.  Learning to live differently step by step, day by day, on an emotional roller coaster because you don’t want to change, you have to change, you need to change for you, but you want to make the world stand still.

And the hardest part is that this process can go on for months or years.  Which is normal and not pathological.  In my culture, when a loved one passes away, ceremony is held after 7 days, allowing the family to do what needs to be done for the remains and deal with the trauma and to regather themselves enough to be around community.  The community mourns with them and a celebration of life for the deceased is celebrated.  And the community acknowledges in that ceremony that the family will be grieving for one year.  We say that the family holds that person’s spirit in their hands, grieving and loving and saying good-bye in their own way in their own time.  The community, during that year, acknowledges that the grieving process is going on for the family and so random weeping, bursts of anger, illogical behavior, and lots of solitude are expected and dealt with as compassionately as possible.

At the end of the year another ceremony is held. The community again acknowledges the departed, blesses the family, and the grieving period is ended.  regardless of specific ceremonies or procedures, it seems to me that we, as a culture, need to reinstitute this understanding of and support for the long-term grieving process.  That we need to allow for healthy vulnerability in this way and see it, not as weakness or pathology, but as healthy and healing.  That while being independent and self-sufficient are wonderful traits, it is in community and with the support of community that we find wholeness and grieving is part of that wholeness.