Feeling What We Feel

I’ve been thinking about my response to Kari’s comment on yesterday’s post about the lost memorial mural in my neighborhood.  My reply talked about the “ok-ness” of public grief, and how memorial murals affirm that, normalize that.

Brooklyn is, sadly, full of memorial murals — some small and rudimentary, some enormous and fully realized.  As sad as they are to see, we need them, need that reminder that it’s ok to grieve, to grieve “out loud” and in techni-color if that’s the way our grief manifests.  I think there’s too much of a push to “get over” sadness quickly and move on.

I remember when my dad passed away, a lot of people seemed to think I was spending too much time being sad about it.  I got the news at the place where I worked, and in that moment they were all very nice about it.  I left work early that day then was back after taking the rest of the week off for funeral and travel and just because.  A day or so later, one of the men I worked for commented that I looked unhappy.  I reminded him that my father had just died, and he said something insane like, “Oh, I thought you’d be over that by now.” 

Seriously?  In five days I was going to “be over” the death of a parent?  True, my father and I weren’t particularly close, but that man certainly had no knowledge of that.  And if he had?  No matter.  Even if my father and I had had the worst relationship in the history of fathers and daughters, I think his death would require more than a few days for me to process.

But that man’s insensitivity wasn’t some wacky strangeness of his.  I got similar comments from quite a few people.  People definitely feel a need to encourage other people to swallow their grief, to put a good face on bad news and get over it quickly.  As if that proves something, shows how strong and adult you are.  Feh.

The memorial murals put the lie to that.  They say, “No. Loss of a loved one is meaningful for more than ten minutes.  It’s meaningful enough that I’m going to feel what I feel, and I’m going to share it with the community in a way that will be (semi) permanent.”

I appreciate and respect that.

To see the rest of today’s slices, head over to Two Writing Teachers.

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14 thoughts on “Feeling What We Feel

  1. Molly Rogers

    A psychoanalyst once dropped “three years” as the mourning time for a parent. Years later I repeated that to a student whose father had died just one year before. He felt he should “be over” it, but his life was uphill every day.
    Two years later he thanked me for helping him cut himself some slack.
    Now I don’t think there’s a magic number for the time of mourning, but it certainly isn’t “one”. Death requires what is called “mourning work”. It is called work because it absorbs our energy and makes us tired.
    I suppose this idea of long mourning goes along with the fact that the people I have loved are the people I love. Loving people is the most important thing that takes our time and energy. When people die, it is just a normal part of our love that we don’t “get over it”. Why would we want to?
    We do continue to work and live and to love other people, because that is also who we are.

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  2. I often can’t believe how much I still mourn my cat who passed in November — I can only imagine how much more all-pervasive the loss of a person would be.

    I wonder if people thinking we can all “get over” things quickly is part of the same culture that leads us to limit sick days and stuff like that: a refusal to acknowledge that life does not happen linearly and is often out of our control. We think we can “power through” everything and do x, y, and z if we just try harder and work faster. It’s not true, and I wish we as a society would recognize that.

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    1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Lisa. We seem to think that, if we don’t acknowledge the painful things, we are stronger or better or … something. At my job, our loved ones are ranked in importance by the number of “death-in-the-family” days we’re allowed to take without being docked pay. I would be interested in reading a transcript of the conversation that ended with two days granted for this one, three days for that. I understand the need to do this from an employer’s point of view, but I also know that I’ve haven’t spent too much time worrying about those allowances for either of the family members I’ve lost since taking this job.

      And I’m sorry about your cat. Even as I enjoy the wacky antics of my bad-cat duo, I am still sad to have lost each of the ones that came before.

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  3. I suppose the necessity of quantifying everything — including such uneven processes as mourning, or even just illness (“sick days”) — is partly the problem. It makes us think we can assign numbers and boundaries to things that really can’t be contained.

    I didn’t know you were a cat person. 🙂 Yay. 🙂

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    1. Yes, exactly. Why do we need to be able to quantify everything? Some things just can’t/shouldn’t be quantified.

      And yes, so totally a cat person. I went to look at your beautiful journal, and fell completely in love with Tisha.

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      1. Thank you so much for your words about Tisha, Stacie. I wrote the journal so others could get to know him too, so I appreciate your taking the time to read it, from the very bottom of my heart!

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        1. I made the mistake of starting it at work, and had to make myself stop because I knew I would be crying before the end. What an undestatement! I really love the way you told his story. Your work is so beautiful.

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  4. I think people are uncomfortable in the face of grief, especially if they haven’t experienced a loss. I have had similar experiences with people suggesting that I should have put my grief away faster, and in my observation it seems to have been people who had never experienced a deep grief, or who were not comfortable expressing their own pain.

    I think the not knowing what to do for another person in such situations leads people to act insensitively (or worse) out of a sense of discomfort. It saddens me that society is so uncomfortable with mourning and grief, because the act of working through it can be the most cathartic, educational, spiritually challenging experience a human being can have.

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    1. I am shocked and appalled that anyone would have said you should have put your grief away faster! I think you’re right about some of what’s behind it. If people haven’t had to deal with similar loss, or if they’ve never been allowed to be comfortable with expressing emotion, seeing someone else’s grief would surely be difficult for them.

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  5. Pingback: Invisible, parallel lives | the Satsumabug blog

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