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Mourning

Why is it so hard to mourn or allow someone else to mourn?  Do we even know what mourning means?  Most of us are familiar with the dictionary definition of the verb TO MOURN that is “to show the conventional or usual signs of sorrow over a person’s death,” but there is also another definition “to feel or express sorrow or grief over (misfortune, loss, or anything regretted); deplore.”  Unfortunately most of us are not familiar with the latter one and with its importance in our emotional well being.

It is impressive how many self-help, emotional intelligence, personal improvement books tap into the concept of loss and into how hard it is for us as humans to grasp this concept.  We are terrified of loss we know, but most importantly we are terrified of what that loss entails, and that is MOURNING.  We are terrified of the tremendous grief that will come from allowing ourselves to feel disappointment, frustration, sadness, anger.  If a child cries, we do everything to make him stop.  We use toys, candy, any sort of bribe that will make the child forget what she was crying about.  If it is an adult showing sadness we tell him to stop crying; that it’s not worth it, whatever that might be, and that he needs to move on!  “He can’t show weakness!”  It seems that it is “inappropriate” for an adult to express “excessive” sorrow or disappointment when something did not go well.   It seems that rather than us wanting to really sooth and help the person that is feeling deep grief we are wanting for them to stop so that we don’t have to feel uncomfortable about their mourning.  We don’t even allow ourselves to mourn.  Clarissa Pinkola-Estes writes in her book, Women Who Run With The Wolves about the life/death/life nature of the Wild Woman and how essential that understanding is to our human experience.  Everything in our lives has a cycle in which something, might that be our lives, our careers, our relationships, will always be created, will die and eventually will be reborn.  David Richo also talks in his book, How To Be An Adult In Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving, about the many endings in our relationships and how it is part of the natural order of things for relationships to have many beginnings and many ends.  Then why are we afraid of mourning?  Because we fear the deep sense of loss we will experience.

I think about even the smallest loses and the tremendous liberation that comes to us from allowing ourselves and others to mourn.  I remember one incident in which I went to my brother’s house.  One of my nephews was sitting on his lap at the table in the backyard.  My nephew reached for a soda bottle and as he pulled it close to him it fell, spilling soda all over himself and his dad.  My brother was so angry.  He took my nephew off his lap and sent him off yelling and expressing his disappointment on him.  My nephew walked away and after a few minutes he grabbed one of his toys and threw it against the ground.  My brother noticing this dismissed him and said that my nephew was putting one of his “shows.”   He simply had “attitude.”  What I saw was different.  My nephew was three years old then and at that age a child realizes that his body is more stable and that he wants to be able to use his new strength and muscles.  He wanted to serve himself some soda.  In a way he was expressing a need for independence and self-sufficiency.  After my brother got really upset, I saw the sadness on my nephew’s little face.  His little body became even littler.  When he threw his toy against the ground I could sense that he was so flooded with sadness and anger that throwing the toy was the best way he knew to release the tension in his little body.  He was self-regulating.  To top it off, his sadness and his anger had been labeled as a “tantrum” or a ”show”.  My brother clearly stated that his “attitude” was to be ignored and his experience of the incident completely invalidated.  There was no re-direction provided for self-regulation, only judgment.

I felt so sad!  My nephew had wanted to meet his need for autonomy and an accident happen.  Besides him being reprimanded, he was also denied his right to self-regulate and to mourn without any validation or acknowledgment.  The disappointment he felt about this minor accident was completely dismissed.  He probably felt embarrassed and sad and his feelings escalated even further as my brother yelled and  judged his self-regulating behavior.  What will he do then the next time he feels sad or angry?  How will he know a safe way to self-regulate and process his feelings if there is no alternative given to expressing sadness and anger?  How will he internalize his guilt about expressing grief?  Will he feel judged by everyone else that doesn’t see his behavior as “acceptable”?  How will continuous incidents like this one translate into his adult life as he becomes afraid of expressing sadness and anger in his relationships?  How will he know that it is ok to mourn?  That he can be validated and accepted?

We struggle with this as adults too.  My boyfriend and I were involved in an incident that had scared me tremendously.  After a big argument and extreme backs and forths between the two of us, we both felt exhausted.  At the time all we keep doing was trying to find someone to blame.  It was hard to move on.  After all was said and done my boyfriend just wanted to move forward.  And I did too, but I felt that something was missing.  I wasn’t ready to move on yet and I was feeling pressured to carry on without acknowledging that I still needed to find closure.  I didn’t quite know how to do it.  After several conversations and taking some time to take care of myself and for self-regulation I came up with what was at the core of what wasn’t allowing me to move on.  I had been very scared by what we had experienced and I still needed to feel scared!  I needed to feel sad.  I needed to mourn the incident.  I needed to allow myself to feel the grief and embarrassment of what had happened.  Wanting to mourn didn’t mean that I was going to be sad and angry for the rest of my life.  It meant that at that moment I needed the space to feel fully.  I know it is extremely difficult to be with another person’s anger, sadness and grief.  I struggle with this myself.  But what I noticed is that by asking my boyfriend to provide me the space to mourn and grieve I was able to begin finding a place of safety that will eventually allow me to move on and move forward.  Had I not received this validation and this space I don’t think it would have been easy for me to recover.

Because it is uncomfortable to be with someone else’s sadness, we sometimes want to “fix” whatever is causing the grief.  If we have an expectation about doing something and it doesn’t happen our needs are not met.  Feelings are going to arise as a natural reaction.  Usually what I hear is “We’re not doing that right now, but we will do it later.  That is fair!  You shouldn’t get mad or disappointed!”  It is like telling a child that she cannot have ice cream because she already had candy and that she shouldn’t cry or be upset, and even worst that she better get that disappointed look out of her face or else!  The issue is not in not being able to do what we want to do or in the case of the child in that she doesn’t get to eat ice cream at the moment she wants it.  The issue is that at the same time we deny the request we also diminish the other person’s feelings dismissing HER experience of her unmet needs.  In the Center for Nonviolent Education and Parenting they would call for EMPATHY.  In my situation: “You were very confused when this happened and you want me to know that you are now feeling sad and scared.  You have a need for safety and space right now while you process things.  I can imagine how hard it must have been to be in that situation.  I also want you to feel safe.”  No blames, no judgments, just empathy!

As I mentioned before I also struggle with this.  Yet, I’ve noticed that when I truly allow my boyfriend or someone else in my life to mourn and process their grief, however small or big that might be, I always find a way to re-connect with them in a way that is stronger.  Our relationships solidify because we allow ourselves to be partners as we mourn.  Although my boyfriend struggles with this too, he has allowed me to mourn and grieve many times.  I feel closer to him as a result.  It is so much easier to be with someone when she is celebrating and in a state of joy, but being with each other with healthy boundaries in the moments of sadness provides many opportunities for further closeness and intimacy.

Learn to celebrate your joys, but most importantly allow yourselves and others to mourn loses!

 

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