Doing and ‘being’ in grief – Part 2

Last time, I wrote about how I was ‘doing’ grief – taking care of all the details and tasks around my dear father-in-law’s death [‘Doing’ and ‘being’ in grief – Part 1]. I hope I didn’t give the impression that ‘doing’ grief was somehow the wrong way to grieve. There is no wrong way, everyone has their way to grieve. We may avoid it or deny it but eventually we find a way, or our body finds the grief for us, [more on that subject to come…]and we grieve our losses.

‘Doing’ grief, as I referred to it, is also called Instrumental grief in the world of thanatology (the study of death, dying and bereavement). Instrumental grief is about doing things to ‘fix’ the grief; taking care of the details, dotting the ‘i’s’ and crossing the ‘t’s’. It’s the father who grieves the loss of his child by building an urn in his shop, the son who pays the bills his father once did or the daughter-in-law who schedules all the appointments. Instrumental grief concentrates on the behaviors, the actions around grief.

‘Being’ in grief envelopes you in emotions. Called Intuitive grieving, this is when sadness washes over you like an ocean wave, sweeping you off your feet – when anger makes you lash out at those closest to you, or when a song on the radio sets your whole day off on a roller coaster of anger, sadness, yearning, then back to anger. Children can ‘be’ in their grief, feeling it intensely, causing the adults much concern and then, with the flip of a switch, they can be ‘doing’ life, playing, laughing, acting like a kid again.

I’ve had the ‘doing’ and ‘being’ experience all year. While I was doing what I needed to for Dad and Mom when Dad died, my dear friend Patricia died after three years of suffering with ALS. There was nothing to ‘do’ but say goodbye and feel the loss, ‘be’ in the grief. I had to let the tears and sadness come, as they have, with every trigger. So many times I have wanted to talk with her about something and then the sadness sweeps in; whenever I’m in one of the places we used to go together, I miss her there with me, and every time I have a good meal in some out of the way restaurant, the yearning happens. When I see her barely one-year old grandchild at the Fourth of July parade I get angry at what she’s missing and afraid for my own mortality, it could have been me. Losing Patricia has me squarely ‘being’ in my grief.

It’s been one of those years, a year of losses, of grief, the exhaustion and the emotions, the mindfulness and the mindlessness, the things to do and the way to be. A year of forgiving – myself, others, the circumstances of life and of death, the diseases and the ‘doing’ of death’s chores. It has been a year of acceptance – life is short even when it’s long, diseases aren’t personal, caregiving is hard work, sometimes you just gotta let it be. And it has been a year full of meaning and magic – bringing a family closer together every Second Sunday of the month, treasuring the trinkets that contain our deepest memories, feeling and knowing nothing and no one is ever lost to us, only in another place, restoring our faith and connection. And this year,brought a newborn baby boy to cherish, signaling that life – the sweetness of life – goes on even in the midst of death and grief.

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