- Moments of grief can strike at any time.
- Telling someone else about an outburst of mourning is important for healing.
- Forcing sorrow back down only stores it whole, undiminished.
Right now, sorrows are hitting us from all directions—the degradation of nature and the death of innocents among them. Plus, our personal losses live within us and are both boundless and timeless. A familiar aroma, an evocative song, or even a glimpse of sunlight moving through leaves at a certain angle can summon these memories and bring us back to a loss when it was fresh.
Grief grabs us in the car on the way home from work or in the shower or while walking the dog, just from having a solitary interlude when feelings rise up, vivid and insuppressible. Telling someone else about such an outburst of mourning must come next if grief is to continue to heal.
The only sure way to move through sorrow is to sit with it and express it, to make it communal. Unfortunately, we often try to avoid this necessary process through distractions, substances, or nonstop activity. The call to be cheerful is relentless. There are so many pressures to put on a happy face that many of us withdraw socially rather than force a pretense that we are “fine.” Who wants to be a downer, an energy drain, the one who puts a damper on the evening? We don’t want to be the one who burdens others with heavy feelings. But if we conceal our sadness instead of grieving openly, we each end up isolated within the sorrows we hide.
One time I was finally unburdening myself to a friend on the phone when I heard the quiet clicking of a keyboard in the background. I didn’t blame her; I just retreated. We are so pressured that we need to optimize every moment. Sneaking in a quick Google search while someone else is talking—what’s the harm in that? Ah, but then I had no further desire to talk, and the tears that were finally rising to the surface slipped quickly back down to a place out of reach of comfort.
We have a stark shortage of listeners in a culture of hurry. When it comes to letting someone get things off their chest, really hearing them out, there are no shortcuts. We have to take the time to receive what they have to say, in the way they need to say it, when they are ready to release it. Grieving can be inconvenient. When we do let it happen, we tend to find a surprising depth of relief, a sense of renewal, and the confidence to get through the rest of it. But we need the listeners, the grief receivers, to attain all of this.
Here's a link to a public talk I gave about grief at the University of Washington in November 2022. Within this exploration are tips for those who wish to get better at taking in another person’s grief as well as ways to resist our own urge to withdraw into suffering in silence.
We have become too busy to grieve; this is the plight most of us are in. Yet trying to put on a front and retreat is not an answer, nor is it a sign of strength. Over time, we find out that forcing sorrow back down only stores it whole, undiminished. Sorrow insists on solace and will keep arising until it is comforted. We have to make room for grieving, both those in sorrow and those willing to open their hearts.
Copyright: Wendy Lustbader, 2023.