G is for Grief

More weekly musings inspired by the alphabet... 

I’m taking courses for a certificate in Thanatology, which is the study of death and bereavement, and one of the main takeaways for me is this: 
In our Western, Christian-secular society, we don’t do dying, death and grief well. 
We are the culture of denial. We are the culture of get on with it. 
We do our rituals and our communal mourning between the death and the funeral, 
and then we are expected to get on with life. 
To get over the death and get back to normal. 
To carry on like nothing has changed.

When, in fact, everything has changed.

In Hindu culture, the community mourns with the family on day 3, day 10, day 31, 
and on the first anniversary of the death. 
There are many other cultures that don’t deny death; they accept it, even embrace it, 
recognizing that it happens to everyone, each one of us, and that it’s vitally important not only to mark the death and the life, but also the loss. The living without a beloved. The grief.

We don’t do this well. 
We just want people to get over it.

Here’s the truth that so many of you know: WE DON’T EVER GET OVER A DEATH. 

This doesn’t mean we wallow; it just means this is the reality – 
in every culture, in every community, in every family.
We don’t get over it, we don’t forget. We simply become reconciled to it in order to move on.
We live through the grief, we live through the loss, we live through the paperwork and the loneliness and the adjustments and the reinvention of our lives and our selves. 

But because we are a culture that denies death,
many of us do this alone.
We mark the first month after the death
We mark the first six months after the death,
We mark the first year after the death,

We are doing it wrong. We are doing a disservice to each other and to ourselves.
We need more ceremony around the death. We need more celebrating of the life.
We need more acceptance and more acknowledgement. 

It’s not morbid. It’s GRIEF.
Grief is not gloomy or moody. 
It’s not wallowing or self-indulgent. 
It is necessary work that every human being needs to do.

Our society needs to appreciate the transformative nature of grief.
Our workplaces need to accommodate the transformative nature of grief.
NOT A SINGLE ONE OF US remains unchanged because of a death. 
Even if the change is small, we are each of us altered in some way by a death. 

We don’t allow for much time off from work. We get time to deal with the death – 
more specifically, to deal with the body – 
but not enough time to deal with the loss, with our grief. 
Many of us return to work for the distraction, but is there support there for those days when it’s too hard to get out of bed? Is there support for those moments when an overheard comment, an email, a smell floods the heart with memory and you are crying at your desk?

Imagine if our companies had pastoral care teams as part of their human resources? 
Imagine if we could move on, remain part of the world, keep living 
AND grieve at the same time? 
AND have a period of mourning even as we walk the aisles at the grocery store 
(ah, grocery stores – definitely need a roving pastoral care provider there) 
or work on that final report or stand in front of a classroom? 

We aren’t doing dying, death or grief well. 
We need to rethink our reluctant to talk about it.
We need to rethink our discomfort.
We need to rethink our denial.

~ SJ


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