I'm learning, through my process of grief, that we as a society tend categorize our experiences as "good" or "bad." I think by doing this, we are failing to acknowledge the complexity and intricacy of the human experience. Occasionally, I meet with some women whose journeys are similar to mine, and we speak within that same context. "I was doing really well until...", "I was really bad for a long time...", etc. We seem to gravitate toward the idea that getting up and moving, putting on a smile, and pretending to enjoy gatherings is "doing well", and that being isolated, breaking down, and showing our hurt means that we're "doing poorly."
I think this very concept influences a person's grief path a great deal. I've met those who feel, somewhere deep within them, that in order to handle their grief, they must appear to always be doing well. This type of grief is more acceptable to society, and it isn't difficult for me to see why. I happen to be in another group. I'm in the one who feels as though expressing the depths of my pain is the only way to experience my grief "well". I fear that losing that image of pain and suffering is somehow betraying the life that I've lost. Now, both groups "know" on some level that neither mantra is true. Both statements are just too generalized, but that knowledge exists right along side the fact that this is JUST how we're going to do it. Neither of these approaches is wrong, nor one more helpful than the other. They just simply are. The funny thing is that society tends to want the ones who are doing "well" to give themselves permission to grieve (as if they aren't), and those who are doing "poorly" to move past their grief (as if this is possible). And that's ok as long as the griever knows that that is a societal perception and not reality. The truth is that grief is a rolling wave of emotions. It has no rhythm or cadence. It has peaks and valleys, but you can't see which is before you. Even the level ground is unpredictable. I think it would be beneficial to simply recognize our current state and give ourselves compassion for the myriad of emotions that make up that one moment. (I'm glad my therapist doesn't read my blog because she'd have every right to bang her head against the wall at this point).
This is why it is difficult to say what is and is not acceptable from outside sources when it comes to a grieving person. I've read several great articles that list the dos and don'ts of dealing with someone experiencing grief. Reading things such as these can be so comforting at times because it makes you feel less lonely, and any sort of life raft that can pull you up for even a second from that type of isolation, is refreshing. However, obviously not all points are always true for me. Some days I'm very capable of functioning and making it appear as though I'm enjoying the moments that I'm living. And I'll let you in on an even bigger secret...sometimes I actually AM enjoying them. In these moments I can hear any number of things related to grief and recognize them for what they are, words from another person, and simply acknowledge and let go. Other times, my grief is so oppressive that any suggestion made in any way burns right through my chest and leaves me gasping for air. In fact, both situations can feature the EXACT SAME WORDS SPOKEN IN THE EXACT SAME CONTEXT, and the reaction is solely dependent on that moment. Again, it isn't wrong or right, it just is. So many things have been said to me over the past two years that have had every intention of lifting my spirits, and to the obvious disappointment of the speaker, have had the profoundly opposite effect. Likewise, I've experienced some harsh words that did little more than glance off of an already open wound.
I have no advice here. It's simply an observation. And it's directed solely at my own experience, because obviously that's the only one I've had. So, maybe I'm just talking to myself here. In that case, I would like to say, "Self, I know that you're hurting beyond anything you'd deemed possible. I know that there are times when you smile and laugh that you feel as though you are betraying your son's life. I know that sometimes you thoroughly enjoy the experience of a moment. I know that many times you have wished to never have to experience another one, even the nice ones. I know that pain and love are synonymous for you now. I know that you've seen awe-inspiring beauty and the depths of hell, all rolled into one confusing package. I'm offering no solution. I'm offering no judgement. I'm simply saying that 'I know.' And 'I see.' I know that you're never doing well or poorly. You simply are. Do with that what you will, Self. I believe we have much more to learn."