Life sometimes pushes you so hard in a certain direction that you kind of want to slap its hand off your shirt. “All right already! I was doing some other things, for the record.”
I may facilitate a continuing education class at our local community college about daring to communicate openly about grief in parenting circles … in any circles really. Then, Jennie wrote to me and we’ve been emailing and learning and thinking about grief and writing.
All of that to say, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how grief and shame are often partners in a painful little dance.
When something “not okay” happens that triggers grief (death, miscarriage, divorce, disruption, alcoholism, depression, etc.) we have (or at least I have and I think it’s fairly universal), feelings of shame. As if, somehow, our own intrinsic “not okayness” (which doesn’t exist, but we imagine does) brought the “not okay event” down on our heads.
Society reinforces this out of fear. We (individually and collectively) don’t want “BAD” things to happen to us and we want to believe we can control uncontrollable and random circumstances because otherwise life is just too scary, so we assume/believe/hope falsely that when “BAD” things happen to someone else it’s because they are “BAD” or they did something “WRONG!!!” to cause the event.
I think this may be why those awful people crawl out of the wood work after a traumatic event saying, “you should have/should not have ([insert terrible mistake here]).” It makes them feel like it won’t happen to them.
In my opinion (which is kind of all you get here; it’s the way this blog thing works, but feel free to disagree in the comments), major religions in their worst incarnations (and they have many positive incarnations, I know) reinforce this attitude, especially western religions, because of their idea that if you are just “good enough,” “godly enough,” “pray hard enough,” GOD will help you. By definition, then, those people who face hardships, loss, pain, etc., aren’t good enough and didn’t pray hard enough for god to help them.
And yes, I’m aware of the whole “god is with you and teaching you through your pain” fallacy. I don’t buy it so if you do we’ll have to disagree. As I’ve said before: “The gods I love leave life to chance and I love them better for it.”
When you take this societal pressure based on a Western belief system and apply it to a grieving person, it reaps a culture of taboo and silence. It’s shameful to be hurting because it means that you are “NOT OKAY” as a person. There’s an underlying suggestion that you should be ashamed of whatever random, awful thing happened to you. I believe we all should take responsibility for our role in our lives and the things that happen to us, but that is never the equivalent of feeling ashamed for it.
Blogging – a form of storytelling, I will add, because I love to hammer a point until it dies a painful, repetitious death – breaks down some of these barriers and taboos and allow us to see that no one is immune from “not okay” things happening. At some point in all of our lives, a little rain will fall. We may even find that sense of control that we need in each other.
Writing or talking about “not okay” (I use that because it’s bigger than a single category of “not okay” like “grief over a miscarriage”) with each other is better, at least I’ve found, then talking to a professional in some ways because all I want in the whole world when I’m hurting is for someone to connect with my experience and my grief and say “yes, I’ve been there, I felt just like that.” And if they can say, “oh and I lived through the experience” (preferably, in my case, without mentioning GOD) all the better. Social media lets that happen. It expands the realm of experiences and connection so far out of the immediate connections and day to day interactions that we have as human beings tied to our physical presence on this earth that it honestly really does feel kind of transcendent to me. Which is about as close as I come to calling something “holy” or “sacred.”
I totally just called dicking around on the internet “holy.” Like OMFG.
That’s what I’ve been thinking about this week, along with Thanksgiving menus and Oreo turkeys and Christmas shopping and how much I hate first-grade reading logs. It’s a good sign. I don’t usually start analyzing emotions until I have a little distance from them.
So, shame and grief. Thoughts? Comments? Pithy Observations? Or, reading logs. Or Oreo turkeys. Whichever you feel most strongly about.
Oreo turkey by ourbestbites.com. I know, they’ve clearly never ruined a cake.