I wonder, frequently, when grief changed from a normal, human response to the death of a loved one, to a condition that, seemingly, must be gotten through (with all due speed, thank you very much for your consideration), with clinical protocols assigned to it?
When did grief get designated as complicated and unhealthy and uncomfortable and perceived as an enemy? When did our culture start demanding of us that we, as grievers, choose life as quickly as possible, focus only on the happy memories of life and not dwell in the layers of sorrow that come with death? When did grief become something to hide from the world at large?
When did we medicalize grief so that our approach is clinical instead of soulful?
Years ago I read about traumatic stress and the military, what is seen and done in war, and the suffering that occurs as a consequence of what is seen and experienced by our military. I read that it wasn’t always called traumatic stress. In past times it was called combat fatigue, shell shock, war neurosis. The term that most appealed to me and best described it was from the Civil War era. It was called soldier’s heart.
An apt description, don’t you think?
Science has discovered neurons and all sorts of scientific stuff about the brain and grief; our brains that are, of course, involved, when it comes to grief. We feel crazy and our thinking and focus goes all to hell and back again, ad infinitum. Maybe drugs calm all that shit down sometimes, and it's good to have options.
Speaking only for myself, I see grief as a matter of the heart. I believe that every grief is potentially complicated, simply because our worlds disintegrate after our loved ones die, and that’s kind of, you know, complicated. I believe that every death potentially is traumatic because grasping the forever-ness of death is beyond human comprehension, and trying to grasp that particular concept is kind of, you know, traumatic. And once we work our way, sometimes with a good therapist, through the worst of the trauma, layers of grief remain that we must muck through and that takes a fuck load more time than the 6 months that the DSM allows for complicated grief.
A matter of the heart...
Thursday, April 21, at 11:21pm will be 3 years since my beloved husband, Chuck, died of a cancer that ate him up and killed him. I was present when he died and I wonder when was the last time he looked at me and saw me before closing his eyes forever? After he died, I bathed him and dressed him and wrapped him in beautiful blankets because I didn’t want him put in a body bag uncovered. Before the mortuary took him away, I spoke with them and told them his name, that he served in our military, that he was a dad of 4 kids-3 of them step kids who never, ever, felt like step kids. Before they took him away, I told them that he was a man of honor who loved me every day of our 24 years together and that I knew they would treat him with all the respect that he deserved. And made them promise me that they would.
Before he was cremated, I opened the box that held his body and covered him with stunningly bright and beautiful flower bouquets. After gently closing the box over him again, I pressed the switch to open the doors of the crematory and watched as his body slid inside and felt sick to my stomach. After he was cremated, I retrieved his cremains that were still almost warm to the touch. I know because I touched them and buried my hands in them, bringing my hands then to my face as I cringed and sobbed.
In the years since, Chuck’s cremains have traveled shotgun with me, next to his flag that was presented to me at his memorial service, the jacket from his BDUs, and a picture of him as a flight engineer on the 141’s. With these precious tangibles of our love story, I've criss-crossed the country 8 times in my PinkMagic rig.
All of this...all of these memories, all of these tangible reminders of his existence in my life, all of the reminders that our existence together is no more...these are matters of the heart. Matters of the soul. Matters that deserve my time and attention because they were...they are...sacred times. I have Widows Heart.
We are not bound to what our culture teaches about grief.
Grief, in reality, has the potential to bring us to a place of our strongest connection to life. It smashes open our hearts and souls and insists on recognition of all that is holy and sacred in life. It is, perhaps, one of the few times in our busy lives that we are forced to slow down, waken to our souls, and listen to what makes us human.
I will not see grief as negative or positive. I will not see it as an adversary, something to be gotten through. I will not force it away by doing whatever it is that I’m supposed to do so that I don’t feel it, or feel it as strongly. I will not push it and shove it and force it in one direction or another. I will not run away from it. Nor will I wallow in it.
What I will do? I will continue to be honest about grief's impact on my life. I will continue to connect with my widowed community. I will continue to become familiar with my grief, because that is, I believe, how it will ultimately soften around the edges. It is not my enemy, as much as I detest its’ presence in my life. Grief is an emotion to be honored. It is the twin to Love.
And, in the end...in the end...it is about my dearest, most beloved husband, Chuck D, the man I will carry with me in every breath I take, forevermore.
I miss you, my dearest love. I miss you. I miss you, I miss you...