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Good grief

June 15th, 2004 · 5 Comments

When I received the email Sunday afternoon I selfishly couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t handle it. One more death in a week when I was surrounded in sorrow. One friend lost a close friend, one friend lost a father, two public figures from my childhood passed away. In the midst of this I am wrestling with my own inner grief, mourning other losses and changes that life has brought me, going to sleep one night sobbing and shouting (inside) at God, waking with red eyes but without revelation. As I read through my blogroll Monday morning, I saw more sorrow, two grandfathers dying this weekend. It seems everywhere I go, someone or something has died. Of the people mentioned in this paragraph, I only met one and I didn’t know him well. But the intensity of grief has been difficult, especially as I’m working through my own sadness inside me.

The death last week that received the most media attention was Ronald Reagan’s. I felt a bit distant. Part of it is my own muddled feelings about politics in this time – and then. Part of it is the fact that we don’t have a tv, and I didn’t read or listen to much coverage. And another part is that what I’m feeling on the inside, a secret sorrow I can’t share or try to explain to other people, overwhelms me so that I don’t have any resources or reserves to reach out into anyone else’s suffering. At least not without grasping at God’s grace to get me through it.

Picking up the paper Sunday morning I read this paragraph:

After maintaining her composure in public all week, Nancy Reagan cried after receiving the carefully folded flag that had encased her husband’s casket. She rested her head on the coffin and cried softly while her children and her stepson, Michael Reagan, tried to comfort her.

and I wondered – did I really need to know that? Couldn’t we have let Nancy and his children have privacy? Does even personal grief become public property when married to a President? It seems vicious and cruel not to pull a curtain.

Then I read Rod Kratochwill’s response describing how people on Widownet now see Nancy as “one of us” . And I read snippy’s experience of watching Reagan’s funeral

I have felt so isolated from anyone else’s compassion or empathy, because death is not so commonplace in most people’s lives, and most of the people I have regular contact with (co-workers, friends, my husband and sons) haven’t experienced the death of a loved one, a parent or child or partner. And there is a taboo on grieving, on even acknowledging the possibility of loss, in our success- and hope-oriented society. Watching this funeral has been cathartic for me, as if it were the funeral I wasn’t allowed to have for Mom, with the careful respect for traditions and for the raw emotions of the survivors.

Rod K. and snippy helped me to see that perhaps there is purpose in the loss of privacy. Perhaps the public mourning brings healing to those also grieving in their own lives. Perhaps the sight of Nancy and his children crying brings connection.

Sorrow is a common bond. Yet death is often hidden in our culture and grief is expected to evaporate instantly. A public moment of ritual and respect can be cathartic. The vicariousness has value. It’s as if we stopped society to condone and proclaim the significance of grief.

I’ve lost friends and relatives. Sometimes I still cry over my brother who died a few years ago. I used to cry when muppets got hurt on Sesame Street: it’s always been easy for me to feel sympathy for someone else’s pain.

But somehow sometimes in the struggle where I am at the moment, I am too overwhelmed to empathize deeply with any one, public or private. I pull into my own heavy shell of suffering, like a hermit crab retreating. And then I feel guilty for what I can’t give others. I wondered whether all the publicity surrounding the president’s funeral and burial was necessary and why someone didn’t pull a curtain of privacy around the family as they wept.

Yet now I’m seeing that this public grief is good. I see that private grief held inside can prevent someone from being able to experience public grief or sympathize with someone else’s sufferings. And I see that public grief can sometimes bring healing to private grief.

Where I am right now in my process feels somewhere in the middle.

Tags: news

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Katherine // Jun 16, 2004 at 8:03 am

    Julie, I am so sorry for your inner pain, grief and struggle. I wish I could be nearby to spend time with you and hug you and listen to you.

  • 2 enoch choi // Jun 16, 2004 at 9:40 am

    me too. may God grant you peace.

  • 3 Kris Hasson-Jones // Jun 16, 2004 at 11:33 am

    You can’t rush the process, either. I’m very goal oriented when it comes to my feelings: I want to cognitively work everything out and then expect my feelings to immediately conform to what my intellect has decided.

    This grief is teaching me humility. I have at best limited control, and the less I exercise it, the better things go for me overall.

  • 4 Julie // Jun 16, 2004 at 10:55 pm

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments and concern. I accept those hugs through the blog 🙂 I seem to be doing better today. I guess what goes down must go up again. Or I think some healing is occurring. Yet I know it is a bumpy road and I will probably always feel some sorrow from it. Also I found that writing it out in this post, sharing it a bit, seemed to help too. Thanks for your blessings and understanding.

    Snippy, thanks for sharing how grief is teaching you humility. I’ve never thought of it that way before, but it is true. I could use more humility! It is true that I can’t control my emotions, although I like to think I can work it out in my mind. Sometimes that happens, but sometimes I’m stuck in a sea of feelings and I have to wait for God’s mercy to clear up the storm inside me.


  • 5 jenny // Jun 22, 2004 at 2:50 am

    Just want to let you know I’ve prayed for you this week… You are a comassionate and empathetic woman. It’s a rare gift, but in this world it seems compassion is hard to find… and your heart is a light.