The Defense of Grief
For many long years, I hid my grief and remained silent about how deeply I missed them or how much their absence affects my life.
But silent grief festers. It wreaks havoc on one’s mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. It makes us miserable, depressed, sick, lonely and exhausted.
Over the years, I’ve slowly begun to stop hiding it quite so much. Instead, I’ve started sharing it. I have cried with friends. I have shared my grief and longing for my family. I have talked about how difficult the holidays can be when some of those we love are absent.
This year in particular I’ve had no patience for trying to put on a happy face and pretending all the images and chatter about happy families and cheerful celebrations don’t hurt.
I am the only remaining member of that little family of mine and that fact hurts.
It’s not always easy to be honest about one’s grief. It makes most people very uncomfortable. And because it makes people uncomfortable, there is often much judgment, shaming, and “shushing” aimed toward those who grieve openly.
Over the years since I started being more open about my grief I’ve been told countless painful things such as:
“You’re just wallowing in this for attention.”
“You need to just get over it and stop being so emotional.”
“You should be done with this by now.”
“You STILL get sad this time of year. Hasn’t it been long enough?”
“You aren’t being very spiritual, don’t you know life is eternal?”
“Aren’t you over this yet?”
“If you truly believed in God and heaven, you wouldn’t be hurting.”
“You aren’t looking hard enough for the blessing in this.”
“You just need to remember it all happens for a reason.”
Or my personal favorite, “You shouldn’t be a practitioner of this philosophy, because clearly you don’t get it if you’re still grieving. If you just choose to feel love or joy instead, you wouldn’t grieve.”
In the early years, a statement such as those would send me back into silence with a gaping, bleeding wound on my heart. Nowadays, I’m better at shrugging those kind of thoughtless statements and judgments off and standing in my own truth.
However, even now that I’ve learned to shrug these statements off and be open and honest about my grief, every time I open up and share I can feel my self-protective defenses rise up around my heart.
Even now, I catch myself mentally preparing to defend why I feel as I feel. I find myself struggling with anger and defensiveness, highly alert for anyone who might jab through my defenses and into my already aching heart.
It’s exhausting. And quite frankly, it makes the grief already present even hard to bear.
Just this weekend, I shared another post on Facebook about how very much I miss my family and wish they were here with me. In the hours since, I’ve noticed myself feeling tempted to withdraw from people, preparing mental arguments in my head to defend how I feel, and struggling not to put up walls around my heart to close people out.
I don’t want to feel as if I have to defend myself or my feelings. I want to simply be me – real and messy and joyful and sad and complex in all the best ways.
And so as I’m noticing the desire to defend and protect, I’m doing my best to breathe and allow. To remain open and vulnerable. To lay down my defenses and keep my heart open. It’s uncomfortable and scary and uncertain.
Just like grief. Grief is uncomfortable – for those grieving and those around the grieving.
It’s easier, at least in the short term, to shut out the discomfort for both parties.
It’s easier to judge and dismiss and criticize – which are just another kind of defense – someone who is grieving than it is to sit with them in the discomfort and love them exactly as they are.
It’s easier to put up defenses and protection or to stay silent rather than stay in the discomfort of opening one’s heart and allowing vulnerability.
But when we shut out the discomfort, we also shut out the love.
Real, open, honest, raw, vulnerable, unconditional love.
Because silent grief festers.
But grief met with love soothes and heals.