Making Friends With Your Grief

Grief can take many shapes and wear many hats.  Life events, world events, personal problems and now, a war that is in Ukraine.  How could Russia put the world in such a comprising position, especially after a pandemic that is still raging.

People are still wearing masks, and some remain hesitant about going to the grocery store. There are those suffering the effects of long Covid. And yes, “long Covid” is a term we ought to know. “Long Haulers” have Covid symptoms that last well beyond a week or two of having no smell and no taste. NPR had a segment on ways to make the distinction between Spring allergies and Covid. Is it the pollen or a lung disease? Hyper-baric chambers have become very popular. For many, the distinction between Covid or bee pollen is paralyzing and essential to their well-being. “Long-haulers” have coughs that persist. They worry about their lungs.  They remind us that seemingly short-term events can last a lifetime.

The lesson here? Never minimize your grief. Your grief has roots, whether it be a physical illness or an important life event. Bessel Van Der Kolk reminds us that “the body keeps the score,” and that what the mind forgets the body remembers. One of the steps toward making friends with your grief is to face it and to stop running. Part of that journey involves being present to your emotions. Brene Brown’s new book called Atlas of the Heart identifies 87 emotions.  Yes, 87!

When asked, most people will typically identify three primary emotions: happy, sad, and mad. Brown helps us fill in the shades of gray with nuances, with emotions we feel but may not have labeled. Atlas of the Heart is now a series on HBO Max, and the show educates us and reminds us just how important it is to both feel and label our feelings. Through a series of movie clips, Brown takes us on a vicarious journey of ups and down, where we experience wonder and excitement, sadness and joy, exhilaration, anger, love and disappointment.  The list is endless, or at least 87 emotions endless.

Words have the power to create and to destroy, to uplift and negate. Words can build and can tear down, and they can help us begin again. They are fluid and beautiful like our emotions. And we can shape, morph, and flee from ourselves or run towards ourselves. In a world that is grieving so much loss and trying to process change, it is important to remember that labels can serve as tickets to our freedom.

The news tells us that the supply chain is creating shortages in food and other essentials. Grocery store shelves remind us of this paucity and threaten us with half empty shelves.  Is this the end of the world? It is important to remember that the paucity is not internal, that tides come and go, and that the war in Ukraine will not wipe out all the canned soup, rice and beans in the world.

No one knows how long we will watch the President of Ukraine defend his land. And no one knows how long we will watch citizen’s displaced from their homes, crying and in pain.  We are witnessing bombs and blood and Genocide. Today’s world calls for myths to help us alleviate and universalize the suffering. Zelensky has become everyone’s modern folk hero. Whether talking to the United Nations or the Senate, his signature tee shirt is today’s modern combat gear, in which he is fighting for liberty and truth. Zelensky and the Ukrainian people are defending what they believe, fighting for land that is theirs.

Let’s take a lesson from the Ukrainian people who are experiencing unimaginable grief.  We can and should all fight for what we believe. And we can acknowledge this unimaginable grief and give it words, in pictures and stories. There is no personal life without political ramifications, and vice versa. We can stand up for our individual truths and for the world’s truth with dignity and clarity. Moving to make meaning of the yet “un-meanable,” transforming pain into pathos, and sorrow into the mythic pictures and narratives necessary to help us tolerate what may have once seemed intolerable.

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