I am still stuck in the words we use to classify grief and recovery. We have developed a whole culture around what grief should look like and by solidifying it with definitions, treatments, and diagnoses we have fenced ourselves and our pain into controllable, quantifiable confines.
Complicated Grief has now been renamed Complex Persistent Grief Disorder. This diagnoses requires:
- The person experienced a death at least 6 months ago.
- They experience one of the following emptiness, loneliness, longing for the deceased, lack of meaning, thinking about the deceased too much or wanting to be with them.
- There are at least two of the following: Numbness, disbelief, ruminating on the circumstances of the death, trouble trusting, anger, intense reactions to memories, seeing/feeling/hearing the deceased, either avoiding things that remind you of the deceased or seeking out things that remind you of the deceased
According to the above, every grieving person I have met has experienced Complex Persistent Grief Disorder. I spent over 23 years with my husband and now at the 6 month mark, during the process of what I consider normal grieving I qualify for a mental health diagnosis. It seems like there should be some sort of sliding scale or formula to that timeline. Something like 23 years together X closeness of deceased (0-5)/level of complicating factors (stress, illness, trauma, mental illness 1-5 with 1 being the highest level)= the number of years before your grief can be labeled pathological. Not perfect, but you get the idea.
In dealing with our emotional, inner world you will often hear people speak about processing. To process is to perform a series of actions/operations/procedures to achieve a particular end. The varieties of processing all seem to want to achieve the end of obliterating the offending emotion or bring it into submission so that the person can go back to fitting in to the societal norms. I visualize processing to go something like this (spoiler alert, upcoming platitudes):
- Admitting the problem is (everyone in unison) the first step to solving the problem.
- Get to the root of the problem.
Anyone in the business world has probably heard of root cause analysis. It is one way to analyze how a problem occurred. There are methods to conducting root cause analysis like The 5 Whys Method. You start with the end and work backwards by asking why 5 times. For example I am angry at K. Why? Because he died. Why? Because he was sick. Why? Genetics and poor self care. Why? Because he was sick and depressed. Why? Because he was felt crappy all the time. Not so effective for personal models. It doesn’t really get to the root of the issue here. But for sake of moving this along, lets say that I do figure our that the root of my anger is that K. is dead and I have unfinished business with him.
- Deal with those pesky roots. Find your own version of psychological Round Up. Go to therapy, talk about your issues. Cry, scream, eat too many Culver’s chocolate Concrete Mixers with marshmallow, watch 9 episodes of Gilmore Girls in a row. No dice, I still have unresolved issues with K.
Authenticity is another term that is bandied about meaning our true self. To be authentic is to be real, worthy of acceptance, legitimate, genuine. I think that there are very few people in this culture that are authentic most of the time. We are all indoctrinated with social norms, family expectations and obligations, culture, religion, etc. Those combine and overlay the authentic self to form our identity. In The Authentic by Andrea Mathews LPC, NCC (Psychology Today 2/28/2018) says that when we act in ways that make us say “I don’t know why I did that”, those are glimpses of the authentic coming through. If we were our truest selves every day, I suspect that the constructs of our society would fall apart. Yet, we can’t only be our identity, that is an empty shell that appears shiny and pretty on the outside, very Stepford Wife-like.
Loss bring out the authentic self. There are plenty of negative emotions: anger, fear, worry, grief, loneliness, shock, jealousy, guilt, etc. I assume these are termed negative because they don’t feel good, but calling them negative in this context might be a misnomer. If these are all parts of your authentic self then you are calling yourself negative. Worse yet, what if it feels good to be irate, or sad, or hurt (a la John Mellencamp: “Sometimes love don’t feel like it should, You make it hurt so good”). I have experienced the conflicting emotions of feeling guilty about finding joy. If I am happy does that mean I am disrespecting the memory of my husband? Is it too soon? I am still sad and wallowing in it, that’s what feels good. Shouldn’t I be further along than this?
If it seems like I keep running around the same circles, you are right. These things keep coming back to me again and again. I am acutely aware that my loss, my emotions and my authentic self are not welcome in all venues. When I sense that it is not welcome, I keep it to myself and get incensed that this is the way it is.
There are other places where I can just feel the welcome like arms reaching out to hug me: church, Grief Share, Freedom Group, therapy, blogging, etc. As much as I don’t like the societal norms around grief I don’t have the energy to change them. What I do have is my experience to share in hopes that others won’t feel alone in theirs.
“Being brave is staying present to your own
Heart when that heart is shattered into
a million different pieces and can never be
made right. Being brave is standing at the
edge of the abyss that just opened in
someone’s life and not turning away from it,
not covering your own discomfort with a
pithy “think positive” emoticon. Being brave
is letting pain unfurl and take up all the
space it needs. Being brave is telling that
It’s terrifying. And it’s beautiful.
Those are the stories we need”.
-Megan Devine, It’s Okay That You’re