“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there..”
Why are we always so hard on ourselves? In the 4 years I have been practicing grief counseling, 3 in a hospice setting, I hear a repeated refrain: “I thought I was doing so much better but I am not.” The self-judgment contained in this statement interferes with the process. And that is what grief is: a process, which implies that it is fluid, changeable and on-going. If grief takes us on a journey through the unknown terrain of our emotional fields, why are we so unwilling to simply notice where we are? Instead, we judge it, as if what we feel is somehow incorrect. “I am supposed to…” “I should be…” and the worst one: “They say I should….”
This seems to be a common ground in grief – nearly everyone questions whether they are grieving in the right way. In Hospice, clinicians use the phrase “grieving appropriately.” What does that mean? What is appropriate expression for you may be alien to me. In some cultures it is appropriate to wail and keen; in others, to present a calm façade. But there seems to always be expectations that somehow, the way you are feeling it might not be quite right. The person who is quiet in their grief is commended as “strong” as if allowing emotion to be felt and expressed is somehow wrong. And the wailing person is sometimes seen as needing medical intervention!
It is natural to question how we are doing but is it necessary to be convinced that someone else has a better handle on coping then we do? Yesterday, while sharing a bit of my own grief experience I caught myself saying, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.” Then I said, “well, actually this IS the way it happened and I have had to find ways to cope, to adjust, even to LIVE within that happening.” There did not seem to be any other choice.
Out beyond self-judgment is the field of exploration. As we navigate our grief without a map and even without a destination, we might discover a new sense of self. How did those early adventurers find their way as they traveled to unknown lands? They explored, they observed, they took measurements and guidance from the stars. We grievers can do the same: we can explore our relationships, we can discover how loving has changed us. We can take the love we shared along with us as the guiding star, even though our loved one is physically gone. And we can leave self-criticism back on the distant shore.
“Sometimes when I am down, I am my own worst enemy. Let me be my friend.”
~ Martha Whitemore Hickman**
*Mevlana Jelaludin Rumi, 13th c. poet, as translated by Coleman Banks
**January 5 entry, Healing After Loss by Martha Whitemore Hickman, Harper Collins