*content warning: death and death awareness
Today I want to reflect on my grief practice because well…it is bit misunderstood at times.
The other week many of us learned that the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ) added “prolonged grief disorder” to its list of mental illnesses.
It was “designed to apply to a narrow slice of the population who are incapacitated, pining and ruminating a year after a loss, and unable to return to previous activities.” And it has offended many in the grief community because it seems to be yet another way to codify through psychiatry that forms of tangible mourning are considered maladaptive to everyday living, and thus need to be “fixed”.
In my own life, this week I learned that someone I love and treasure found my way of grieving to be “toxic”. The word toxic carries such a horrible connotation. It assumes that someone is doing active harm, when in reality, all I am doing is reacting to the profound loss of losing my younger child. To be framed this way felt like a cut in my heart. When I learned this I sobbed uncontrollably on the floor. I felt that my life was meaningless in that I would be constantly misunderstood by those I loved the most. I spoke to several close friends about it and they tried to offer words of love and encouragement. Those friends mean so much to me.
I then realized that what my loved one meant by “toxic” likely meant “depressing”.
After all, there were days where all I could do was bathe myself, feed my cats and get back in the bed and cry. I light candles every night for my son. I talk to him each morning. I pray aloud. I would play the same podcasts over and over. I would stare at the sky, as I became obsessed with nature, especially birds(I still am). These things gradually comforted me in such a powerful way that they were how I could survive and ultimately finish my PhD and go on to land a job as an assistant professor at Mississippi State University.
In my anguish of learning of this severe appraisal of my ways of grieving, I composed a thread on twitter that went as thus:
The griever walks alone. The griever loses friends. Family becomes frustrated, doesn’t like the new person the griever becomes and the griever loses familial relationships. So as the griever carries their Angel in their heart, they look around everyone is gone.
It would be a defeat for me to stop believing in my purpose, to attempt to become the person I used to be but I’m not.
So everyone who turned away goes on, their lives no longer hampered by the oddness of the griever.
My ways are different.
I cry a lot.
I walk outside a lot.
I play the same nature podcast over and over. I light candles I burn sage, I burn palo Santo, I no longer dance. I’m not the same. And many just don’t want me around I’m a walking black cloud to those who knew me before. And I serve no purpose in this new state of being to them.
I won’t stop doing the things that comfort my broken heart.me
Frankly I am not ashamed of what has helped me survive.
Whoever must leave can leave.
If former friends, I wish you well, if estranged family, I wish you love.
A person who has supported me from afar, who has supported my son’s memorial scholarship dm’ed me the poem below after seeing my tweets:
The griever has friend(s) who understand,
who groks the internal beauty in the solidarity, singular, necessarily repetitive, bottomless process of the griever’s bereavement.
There is resplendent joy, redolent balm, wonderous comfort, tangential peace found in grief. And love.
Tears and laughter are fused.
The griever is not, ever, alone.-a close friend, initials CB
Whatever you may think of a griever, please try not to cast aspersions. Our paths are not the same, even among grievers. The pacing is different sometimes, the ways of coping are different sometimes. Please, don’t shame a griever.
feature image is “Melancholy”, a sculpture by Albert Gyorgy, which depicts the emptiness experienced during the grief process. The Jet d’Eau makes the sculpture appear to be crying.