Grief as a Subversive Act

From the beginning of my grief, people urged me to move on, to drop the mantle of grief, to look to the future rather than the past (without their realizing that grief is about the future as much as or even more than the past), but I went my own way. The power of my grief shocked me, and I couldn’t help writing and blogging about it in an effort to understand what was going on with me. (Most novels I’ve read did not touch on the truth of grief, and when they did, the grieving character was portrayed as unstable or half crazy, and I knew I wasn’t crazy. Which is why I wrote Unfinished — I wanted to show a character dealing with grief and all that goes along with it.)

Despite my being long past the wilds of grief, I still occasionally blog about that awful and awe-full state, though sometimes I am a bit embarrassed to do so — I don’t want people to think I am grief mongering for the sake of collecting sympathy. And I especially don’t want people to think that I am still crying myself to sleep at night, because I am not.

I simply don’t want grief to go unrecognized for what it is. Our society has a tendency to cover wild emotions with platitudes and false cheer, and I believe it is important to tell the truth (my truth). I certainly don’t want to participate in the great cover-up, hiding grief from the non-bereft to keep them from being uncomfortable at having to face unpalatable truths.

Death is more a part of life than we acknowledge. Grief is possibly more important than even we grievers can know.

Stephen Jenkinson, a Harvard-trained theologian and the subject of the documentary Griefwalker wrote:

Here’s the revolution: What if grief is a skill, in the same way that love is a skill, something that must be learned and cultivated and taught? What if grief is the natural order of things, a way of loving life anyway? Grief and the love of life are twins, natural human skills that can be learned first by being on the receiving end and feeling worthy of them, later by practicing them when you run short of understanding. In a time like ours, grieving is a subversive act.

Grief is more than that a skill or an emotion, of course. The problem with grief is that it is so physical — affecting hormones, brain chemistry, equilibrium, sleep and eating patterns, and so much more — that it is almost impossible to prepare for it or to even get a handle on it. (Adding in the emotional, spiritual, and mental aspects along with the incredible stress of it all makes grief unbelievably complicated, especially when it comes to the death of a soul mate or a child.)

Still, Jenkinson makes a good point about the necessity of grief. And being the quietly rebellious person that I am, I especially like thinking that by writing about grief, I am not grief or fear mongering, but am participating in a subversive act.


See also: What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas? And if by chance you know someone who is grieving, either of my books about grief — Grief: The Great Yearning or the novel Unfinished would make a nice gift.

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Necessity For Grief

People keep telling me I’m courageous to write about my grief, and perhaps it does take courage to let people see me at my most vulnerable, especially when I remember that the grieving me will be living forever in cyberspace. Even if I find peace or new meaning or happiness, that vulnerable part will still be accessible to anyone with a connection to the internet. But that is a small price to pay to be able to get my message across.

I never had a message to impart, but after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I found I did have something to say, and it is this: it’s okay to grief. Such a simple message, really, and not just meant for the bereft, but also those connected to the bereft. Too often family and friends urge their bereft loved one to “move on,” “get over it,” “stop thinking about it.” And they need to know that it’s okay for the bereft to grieve. If they can’t handle their loved one’s grief, imagine how much harder it is for the bereft to handle the pain.

We live in a society that values cheerfulness at all costs, and sometimes, when it comes to grief, the cost of putting on a cheery mien to make others feel better is simply too high. Despite what people seem to think, happiness and joy are not the only allowable emotions. Grief is important, too. If the bereft shows no danger signs, such as drinking too much, blocking out family and friends for many months, suicidal impulses such as stockpiling pills, then it’s better to let grief take its course.

Grief is how we learn how to adapt to a world without — without our loved ones’ presence, without their friendship, without their support, without their love —and it is possible to learn how adapt well enough so that we can live, laugh, love again. Grief digs deep into our psyche, allowing us to ask the important questions that get lost in the activity of daily life: who am I, why am I here, and what’s it all about? Even more important, perhaps, grief helps us to grow in courage, strength, wisdom. It would be nice if happiness and easy living gave us such attributes, and sometimes they do, but more often growth comes with adversity.

Although we bereft often wish to be done with our grief, we would resist anyone who tried to take it away from us. It is ours. Its lessons are ours to learn. Its power to reshape us into people who can deal with anything is ours to grasp.

Apparently, as I’ve been writing this bloggerie, I’ve amended my message. Not only is it important to grieve, it is necessary.