The purpose of grief in under 400 words. It’s my latest column in the Humboldt County Senior News. To read it, click here and scroll to page 16. Or read it right here:
For two years I was furious with the universe. It started when my husband Alan was
diagnosed with dementia. Our spirits went to great lengths to see that we met, fell in love, and married—all within a few months. Now they conspired to tear us apart. Enraged, we felt we had been betrayed by divinity itself.
Alan’s diagnosis was what we’d feared but dare not acknowledge. We trusted our denial to prevent the reality. It didn’t. The diagnosis catapulted me into anger, the second stage of grief. I bypassed the next phase, bargaining. No deals can be struck with dementia.
I thrashed about in depression, too anguished to recognize my state. While Alan moved deeper into dementia, I plunged deeper into despair.
I tried to make myself feel better, and when nothing lifted me up, I complained to a wise friend. He laughed at my attempts to self-soothe.
“The purpose of grief,” he said, “is to…”
I held my breath, wondering what that purpose might be.
“The purpose of grief,” he continued, “is to grieve.”
I was failing at grief. Had I missed the point? Instead of aspiring to a wispy and calm happiness, I had to receive the darkness. Grief demanded I welcome the bleakness of it, to lament and mourn, to be disintegrated.
Naturally, my grief grew as Alan reached the end. I let it. It was relentless. I moved into it, expressed all of my emotions—the sadness as well as the joy, what little of it there seemed to be. I let life pull me along. I watched all the feelings passing before me and let them out.
I cried and wailed when I needed to. If I was in a public place or driving when it hit me, I’d hold it in until I got home. Once I turned the faucet on, it flowed for a short time, then turned itself off.
Grief does not want you to be a superhero—it wants you to express all your emotions. Safely.
I released my pain by going for long, vigorous walks, by beating the heck out of my drum. It felt great. And I buffered it all with laughter.
The purpose of grief? As my friend reminded me, don’t mask or squelch your feelings. Only by expressing grief can we integrate it.