Following on the last two newsletter articles (here and here), this month’s thoughts focus on a metaphor for grief that I use frequently, because of the way it seems to usefully embed the different phases of grief as it unfolds from shock to acceptance. Of course, find the metaphor that works for you, that describes your actual experience in a way that gives it shape and language and meaningfulness. But here’s a suggestion of one which you can tuck in a pocket, and bring out in times when it’s hard to find an understanding of loss that isn’t simply endless misery. Given that we’re fully heading into the holiday season (like it or not), and that the archetypes of family are getting lit up along with the fairy lights, it seemed an apropos time to offer up this lake-and-river imagery.
So, however your December is shaping up, may you find a joy that matches your unique self, and enough supports to make use of whatever the stress of the season brings you.
Fall (in the Northern half of the planet), with its increasing dark and insularity, as well as the setting in (for some of the planet) of the holiday season, can bring on experiences or re-experiences of loss. Sometimes these are new losses, and sometimes these are losses that we tried to tuck into the attic but nonetheless have made their way downstairs. Given the build of our human psyches, these losses trigger the grief process as the way we’ve been designed to resolve those losses. But as natural as that is, we often initially resist or deny or rationalize the loss. Which doesn’t work.
So, in this month’s article, I lay out a sketch of the “protocols” of grieving, the stripped down elements or principles that make the process flow as smoothly and elegantly as it can. Hewing to these as best you can is a decent (if not cookie-cutter) recipe for engaging a process all of us would prefer to ignore. But since hiding grief is the invitation to depression coming on, it behooves us to surrender to the grieving, and these rules of grief are here to support us in that surrender.
Most of us are not very good at grieving. We deny loss, we judge emotions, we fear getting lost or stuck, or “wallowing,” or we fear judgment or unsupportiveness from others. Maybe it’s the legacy of eons of human history in which we were so exposed to disease, social chaos, natural disasters, psychological trauma, capricious death, that we had to learn and teach our young an emotional stoicism to just survive. Maybe it’s our American culture of individualism, hyper-masculine, capitalism, gladiatorial social relations. Regardless, if we look in, and around, most of us will find a good measure of ambivalence about grief. Yet, without learning the terrain and skill of grieving, we’re left profoundly exposed to the vagaries of this life and all its losses. It behooves us to be better grievers.