Grief is NOT Self-Indulgent

I was looking at search terms people used to find this blog, and someone googled “I feel self-indulgent when I think of my deceased partner and I cry a lot.” That got my ire going — not about her feeling that way, but at the way our society handles grief. Thinking about one’s partner and crying are not wrong, but there is something seriously wrong with a society that makes the bereft feel self-indulgent for grieving. What the heck is wrong with crying? With grieving? With talking about one’s grief?

Grief is not something to be shoved under the bed like a box of junk that you don’t quite know what to do with. Grief is how we learn to deal with a world suddenly gone crazy, and tears are how we relieve the tension of that grief. I don’t know how long this particular person had been dealing with her grief, but I’m at eighteen months, and though I’ve gone on with my life, I still have upsurges of grief and bouts of crying. Though these bouts have diminished significantly and I recuperate quite quickly, I’m prepared to go the distance, however long it takes. Some people say it takes a minimum of two years to get over the sadness and tears, some say four years, some say one year for every seven years of togetherness, some say never — that even after twenty years they still have times where the truth of their partner’s death hits them and the tears flow.

Since mourning is considered by the uninitiated to be unacceptable behavior after a month or two, most people quickly learn to hide their grief. Grown children especially get irritated at tears, perhaps because they can’t bear to see their once-strong parent brought low or perhaps because they think their parent is being self-indulgent. A friend of mine lost her partner six months ago, and her son berates her for being a drama queen. Such non-acceptance of a natural process adds more agony to an already agonizing time. As I said, there is something seriously wrong with a society that demonizes grief.

After my partner died, I asked the moderator of a grief support group how I should handle questions about my grief. I didn’t want to bore people with my ongoing emotional traumas, but at the same time I didn’t want to pretend everything was fine. I’d also been blogging about my grief but wasn’t sure I wanted to continue since I didn’t want to seem whiny and self-indulgent. She told me it was okay to tell people I was coping if I didn’t want to go into details, but she suggested I continue writing about grief because people needed to know the truth of it. And I’ve followed her advice even though it was hard at times. I mean, after eighteen months, shouldn’t I have gotten over it? The truth is, you never get over a significant loss — you learn to manage living without him or her.

It used to be that women hid their pregnancies, but now they flaunt their “baby bumps.” Maybe it’s time we brought grief out into the open so that the bereft do not feel as if they are self-indulgent for dealing with loss the only way possible — with remembrances and tears.

8 Responses to “Grief is NOT Self-Indulgent”

  1. Joylene Nowell Butler Says:

    Very beautifully put, Pat. Thank you.

  2. joylene Says:

    I also want to thank you for giving me the courage to write about my boys. It was scary, but it feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Joylene, I am thrilled you are writing about your grief. Grief that is kept to oneself tends to eat away at you. I used to feel as if I were writing under false pretenses when you’d compliment my bravery about writing about my grief, but truly, by opening up, I received way more than I gave. And besides, people need to know that it is okay to grieve. There are times now when it does take a bit of courage to write about my ongoing grief since it’s been so long, but the censure I expected from readers never materialized. I only received support, such as the support I got from you.

  3. leesis Says:

    Sometime Pat I read of your and others experiences dealing with the peoples reactions to the griever and want to scream. A ‘drama queen’…really???!!! Personally I feel there is a strong connection between people not understanding grief and those same people not understanding just how precious and vital their relationships are. Every day I see people not recognizing the value of each other. It often amazes me how much we deny our dependence on each other…we don’t even like the word dependant. Perhaps that is why grief is so hard to witness for then our dependence is there in the open smacking us in the face.

    Yet again Pat I am reminded how essential your writings are because no, grief is not self-indulgent. It is the reaction to losing the most precious aspect of our lives…our relationships with each other.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      As always, thank you for your note of rationality, Leesa. A few months ago, someone accused me of being co-dependant because my grief was too deep. Co-dependant!? Isn’t that the purpose of being in a relationship, each depending on the other for support and love and understanding? I understand that there are times co-dependancy is a problem, such as when each exacerbates the other’s destructive behaviors, but a normal relationship depends on dependency. On the other end of the spectrum, If each partner is totally independent of the other, chances are they have no relationship,

      You’re right — my dependence on him has always been hard to admit because it makes me seem so foolish. Yet our relationship gave me more independence than I would have alone, because it was a buffer, a soft place to fall as I reached beyond what I knew. And now . . . I am not dependent on anyone, nor do I have support, love, and understanding from a significant presence in my life. There’s only me, and like many women in my position, I have to learn to be enough.

      • leesis Says:

        Pat there is nothing foolish in dependence. The foolishness lies in the notion that we are not co-dependant on each other. We are a co-dependant vulnerable species who waste a whole lot of time and cause ourselves much suffering by pretending we are not. There are many reasons why we perpetuate this denial but just as we are dependant on the earth for our physical health so are we dependant on each other for our emotional health. I can feel a blog comming on 🙂

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Leesa, I had to laugh at your last sentence. All the time I was reading your comment, I was thinking Hmmm, this should be my next blog. Do you mind if I use your name and link to your blog?

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