Karen C.L. Anderson, author of The Difficult Mother-Daughter Relationship Journal, has released a new newsletter where she discusses all of the different ways to grieve.
On Thanksgiving Day three years ago our local newspaper featured an article and interview with a relatively famous self-help author who is considered a pioneer of the so-called “happiness movement.” She also happens to live nearby. In the article, she shared that she lives by premise that we can choose what we feel, and that we’re better off when we choose happiness. I agree with (and live by) the same premise; it is what makes us creative and powerful as human beings. She also shared that both her husband and her long-time editor died around the same time several years ago. And then she said something that blew my mind (and not in a good way). She said: “I don’t believe in grieving.” My immediate reaction? How irresponsible! (I literally said it out loud…so loud, in fact, that my husband was alarmed.) Next, I wrote to the Editorial Page editor and said I wanted to offer an alternate view (and why). He wrote back and said I could have 700 words (which were published on the front page of the Sunday “Perspective” section in The Day three years ago tomorrow). Here’s (most of) what I wrote: I believe in grieving. Choosing grief can be one of the most transformative and life-affirming things we can do for ourselves. Healthy grieving allows us to remember the importance of a loss, but with a sense of peace, rather than suffering. Healthy grieving helps us transform the loss from something that, at first is painful and depleting, into a source of wisdom and creativity. I have learned to grieve well and it has served me in an unexpected way: it has shown me just how strong, resilient, and grounded I am. Is it uncomfortable? Absolutely. And I can do uncomfortable things without suffering. Here’s another way to look at it: Clean pain is pure, real pain generated by a real, hurtful experience and felt in that moment. The death of a loved one. Someone screaming in our face that we’re a terrible person. Dirty pain is the result of our thoughts about how wrong the hurtful experience is, how it proves we are bad, or believing that is shouldn’t have happened. Dirty pain keeps us stuck. Healthy grief is clean pain. Beyond the importance of grief, there is a larger issue: that so-called “negative” emotions are to be avoided or glossed over and that if you are feeling anger, sadness, fear, or grief, you must be doing something wrong. This can lead to depression, anxiety, shame, and addiction. When we deny, ignore, suppress, or delegitimize ANY emotion, we traumatize ourselves. It’s the disconnection from our bodies, which is where our emotions occur, that is the trauma. Trauma expert Dr. Gabor Maté says, “The essence of trauma is disconnection from ourselves. Trauma is not terrible things that happen from the other side — those are traumatic. But the trauma is that very separation from the body and emotions. So, the real question is, ‘How did we get separated and how do we reconnect?’ Because that’s our true nature — our true nature is to be connected. In fact, if that wasn’t our true nature, there would be no human beings. The human species — or any species — could not evolve without being grounded in their bodies.” Feeling anger, sadness, grief, bitterness, guilt – or any of the myriad emotions you might feel – means that you are a normal, functioning, human. It’s when we act on those emotions without consideration that we can get into trouble. As well, emotions have something to teach us. When you make room for uncomfortable emotions, actively allow them, and not be in a hurry to change them, you learn something you wouldn’t have otherwise learned. Fear teaches us to assess risk. Sadness teaches us to let go. Anger teaches us to have healthy boundaries. Because our culture encourages us to turn “negatives” into “positives” and labels some emotions as right and good and others as wrong and we bad, we often miss out on those lessons. Not to mention that when we make ourselves wrong for feeling certain emotions, we create one of the most misunderstood and corrosive emotions: shame. When we allow for and trust ourselves to feel ALL emotions, we have a richer, more resilient and intuitive life. So yes, absolutely choose happiness. Choose grief, too. Welcome all your emotions. Be curious about them. Observe them. And know that they are your greatest resource, because they drive everything you do. And that’s why “Feeling good is not a luxury, it’s a responsibility.” ~ Brooke Castillo And? Feeling good requires feeling everything. No conversation about grief is complete with out my friend Sophie Sabbage’s brilliant TED talk: How Grief Can Help Us Win. In it she references the famous Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) and then turns it on its head. Here’s some of what Sophie has to say: “Grief, by which I mean knee-buckling, chest-cracking, tear-streaming sorrow does not feature in the Grief Cycle at all. Denial is not grief, it’s denial. It’s a refusal. Anger is not grief, its anger. It insists that loss is not right, not fair and should not have happened. Bargaining is not grief. It’s bargaining. Depression is not grief, it’s when anger and bargaining collapse with exhaustion. This is the Resist Grief With All Your Might Cycle. And acceptance isn’t the end, the closure. It’s where we begin to let grief have it’s way with us.” We know that loss is part of life. Sophie says we’re designed for it. But we’re taught not to. We’re taught to intellectualize it, to resist, to stuff, to tie it up in a neat little bow. It is only when we allow ourselves to grieve without shame or judgment, when we allow ourselves to feel that knee-buckling, chest-cracking, tear-streaming sorrow, that gratitude, and, ultimately, forgiveness simply unfold within us.
“Grief is the courageous expression of sorrow and it opens us up…like love. … We can not live in full bloom without it.” ~ Sophie Sabbage
Much, much love,
On the Dear Adult Daughter podcast:
A Guide For Revealing & Healing Toxic Generational Patterns (Companion Journal to Difficult Mothers Adult Daughters)
A compassionate guide: Karen C.L. Anderson is a storyteller, feminist, and speaker who views the world through the lens of curiosity and fascination. As a mother-daughter relationship expert, she gently guides readers through revealing painful patterns in their relationships to finding ultimate healing. Her book isn’t a quick fix. Rather, she writes to help mothers and daughters heal and either reconcile or peacefully separate.