Have you ever had a friend or loved one who was grieving? Whether over the loss of a close friend or relative, a messy breakup or divorce, or a rapid decline from financial comfort into poverty – any feeling of sorrow over losing something they once had. The tendency, when we bear witness to these sorts of tragedies, is to offer concern and comfort to our friend – but only for a while.
It isn’t our fault, really. We are all busy with our own stuff. Yet as time goes on, we tend to lose patience with our friend if they aren’t visibly recovering as quickly as suits our comfort level. If they remain too long in grief or poverty, we tend to do one of two things: we either slowly drift away, or we jump in and try to fix everything as quickly as possible. Rarely do we allow for the process to progress at its own, meandering, pace.
In part, we do this because these issues make most of us uncomfortable. Death, grief, failed relationships, poverty – these are the ugly side of life that most of us choose not to think about unless and until they stand in front of us and punch us squarely in the neck. Having someone around who is a constant reminder that sometimes the darkness obscures the light…well it’s a bit of a downer.
And in part, we rush the process because the world stops for no man (or woman). So, yeah, it sucks that your mom died but you still gotta pay the electric bill, so suck it up and go back to work. Your Depression doesn’t allow you to leave your bed in the morning? Here, take this medicine so you can return to being a productive member of society. You aren’t sleeping at night because your bed feels empty now that your partner is gone and you can’t get comfortable? Got a pill for that, too. You lost your job, depleted your savings, and still aren’t getting interviews, never mind job offers, after submitting 137 job applications? You should try harder. Here’s the information for a career coach – if you give them the financial equivalent of 6 months rent, they can help you see why your resumé sucks.
No wonder we’re overmedicated and in massive amounts of debt. And whether you throw money, medication, or both at your problems it will always be a temporary solution – a band-aid over your gunshot wound. Without proper care, the wound will fester and be a much larger problem later.
In his book, “The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path,” Ethan Nichtern discusses materialism in the context of our grasping for emotions we deem positive: happiness, joy, love, etc. We clutch at these and run from “negative” feelings – sadness, anger, despair – forgetting that light cannot exist without darkness; forgetting that feelings are neither good nor bad. They just are.
Having been on the side of grief many times, I have this theory that the pressure to move on as quickly as possible is counterproductive more often than not. Sure, some people wallow, and while wallowing has its place, some people need a kick in the pants to find motivation. But in most cases, I wonder how effective it is to tell the grieving person how irresponsible they are for giving into their grief.
When I am struggling emotionally, guilt trips do more to cripple rather than inspire. And often the one thing I need that is most lacking is someone to tell me that it’s ok. It’s ok to feel like shit. It’s ok to take the time to take care of myself. It’s ok to ask for help.
It’s ok – no, it’s hugely helpful – to sit and make friends with my grief. To mentally treat my feelings of grief as an entity, listen to them, offer them understanding, show compassion, and not try to banish them. Let them be what they are. Then they no longer have to act out to get my attention.
My grief and I can learn to face the world together.