September 4, 2012

Grief: What We Aren’t Supposed to Talk About. ~ Chantal Hayes

I’m not going to apologize for being sad.

It has been two weeks, 15 days to be exact, since I found out about my miscarriage. Although I have many friends who have been supportive, I sense a general feeling in our culture that when a death or loss occurs we should just “get over it.”

Scattered throughout my days I hear these messages whispered in my ear:

move on
occupy your time
stay busy
you will get over this

I suppose in some ways, I’m telling myself those things too. I know people mean well. It’s just that our culture likes to stick a Band-Aid on things that are broken and keep going.

But you know what? I don’t want to get over it. Not right now. Nope. I’m sitting down right here on the ground and crossing my legs in the sand. I don’t care if it has been two weeks, or six… or two years, or a decade. Maybe never.

Tell me: what is the appropriate amount of time for someone to grieve? Does it depend on the sort of loss? Do you take into account the age of the individual you lost, or the way in which he/she died? What about losing precious items? Entire neighborhoods and cities lost to natural disasters? What about beloved pets? How about divorce/break-ups?

Since I was born and raised in America, I have general answers about the culturally accepted “grieving time limits.” We all do. It is fostered within us as a natural part of being raised in any culture.

Today, the healing mother within speaks to me and says:

bang on the walls
walk around like a ghost.
don’t talk
or do talk, if you feel like it.
stumble through your day.
fall down
it’s okay
leave your broken heart open for awhile:
do not try to fix it
do not try to save it
don’t make excuses anymore.
cry so hard and so long that it hurts your insides
and you fall down in a heap on the floor.
cry until you don’t feel like crying anymore
and then cry again when you do.
weep softly in the car on a drive
when you see a leaf falling down from a tree
or a squirrel lying dead on the side of the road
or an ambulance
or a police car
or a stop sign.

Each day I reach inside myself and touch the bottom of my pain and sorrow is a day that my heart heals just a little.

At work yesterday, I must have broken down in tears at least five times in between meetings and clients… and even during some of those I teared up a bit. Right now I am fragile; my heart is tender. But one thing I know for sure: grasping at repair efforts will only prolong my healing process.

Grief, loss, death: these are not clean and sterile issues. They are not neat little packages that we can put up in the attic and forget about. Most of all, they are not simple. I think the norms surrounding death in most other cultures are obscure to people living in the United States.

In some cultures, people prepare enormous funerals (or celebrations of life) for the deceased. In traditional Greek and Romani cultures, the entire village attends; there are huge processions down the streets. Wailing, screaming, and  exuberant displays of sorrow are common to see.

In Chinese ancestor rituals, the dead remain part of the family; the spirit continues to provide guidance and wisdom to the living. Funeral ceremonies here in the U.S. are typically an hour or two, but in some eastern Mahayana traditions of Buddhism, a funeral ceremony is held for weeks, even months, after death.

A woman from the African Dagara tribe who has experienced the death of a child will mourn for the rest of her life. She, along with friends and family members, will carry out daily, weekly, monthly and yearly rituals to honor the deceased child for as long as they live.

You see, in other cultures, there is simply no time limit set for how long you are allowed to grieve. Cultures are all so different. I do so wish that the cultural norms in the U.S. for grief gave us a little (or a lot) more leeway for time and tenderness. Perhaps it is because we are such a new culture in comparison to the rest of the world.

I’m not saying I need a lifetime. Or maybe I am. I do know that I’m not ready to move forward. I’m not ready to think about having another child, and I’m not going to put a Band-Aid on my pain and move on.

As I write this, the sky has opened up: it is now raining. Native American cultures liken crying to rain; it falls, it cleanses, and in time, it brings forth anew. I am big into rituals. And I’d like to begin one now for my lost little flower of a child. I know I’ve got to be in touch with my pain in order to do this. I try to think that the measure of my pain relates to the enormity of my love.

So, until further notice, if you need me, I’ll be right here, sitting in the sand with my legs crossed, touching the center of my sorrow, writing, crying, maybe screaming, and just feeling pretty broken for a while. There are people I know who think it’s just crazy that I am writing and sharing about all the details of my life and miscarriage and grief, that these things aren’t supposed to be made public.

But you know what? This is who I am. This is my story; we all have one. I’m going to talk about things that aren’t pretty. I’m going to write it down because it’s real and it’s true. We all lose someone or something in our lives: It is then that we choose. Will we put a Band-Aid on our pain and move on, or take time to feel?

When we choose to grieve, we make the choice to not only heal our own hearts, but also to honor the deceased as well. I have made a choice: no matter what the circumstances, I am going to allow myself to grieve.


Chantal Hayes is a clinical psychotherapist who specializes in child and family therapy, currently living in the US and practicing in her home state of North Carolina. She discovered her passion for writing through time spent at Wat Carolina Buddhajakra Vanaram, a Buddhist monastery in Bolivia, NC, while mentoring under the abbot monk. Chantal enjoys writing about family dynamics, women’s issues, and empowering others to overcome personal struggles and lead healthier, happier, and more authentic lives. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending time at the beach with her husband and two-year-old daughter, hiking and camping, practicing yoga, drinking wine, and eating really stinky cheese. Follow Chantal on Twitter.

Editor: Colleen Simpson

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