Expressing Our Grief
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
When we are grieving, we may want to distance ourselves from our anger, confusion, or pain. It can feel overwhelming, uncomfortable, and simply too much. We may decide it is better to seal up all the windows and doors of our heart and not let the storm raging inside out into the open. It might hurt someone, get out of control, or be messy. Other losses, pain from long ago, may erupt if this one is allowed to penetrate. We may tell ourselves that we need to be able to function in the world, that we have people depending on us to ‘keep it together’, or that it will take too long, or believe we are strong and can handle it. Therefore, we keep it stopped up tightly inside and stoically get through each day. At our best, we distract ourselves with a job that needs doing or someone who needs help. At our worst, we stuff it down with food, alcohol or drugs.
Let’s listen to the wisdom of Winnie-the-Pooh. Let’s get that Thing that seems very Thingish inside of us out into the open. It is when the emotions are most intense that they need expression. Immerse yourself in the wilderness, shout, swim in frigid water, build a fire, sit in a hollow tree. Draw your emotions, paint them, journal them, speak of them, release them with tears. Chop firewood, go for a jog, wash your entire house – not to distract yourself but to find a way to be with the energy inside you.
In Biblical times professional mourners, or wailing women, were invited to funerals and to follow a body to a gravesite. When I first read about this practice, it seemed ridiculous. Pay someone who doesn’t even know the deceased to cry loudly? Now I understand. When emotions are so intense that they threaten to overwhelm us, it is common to react by shutting down, holding them inside, and becoming numb. The wailing women facilitated the grief process – they not only made it okay to cry, and cry loudly, but they encouraged it with their own tears. Why? These ancient people knew it was important for the grieving to express emotion. Compare our time to theirs; they have earned the right to teach us some of their wisdom on the subject of grief and loss.
Emotion has been described as “energy in motion”. Energy needs to flow. When it isn’t expressed, it becomes trapped within the body. Some health practitioners believe trapped energy atrophies and then causes our ailments and depression, and keeps us locked in the past, not able to move forward with vitality and curiosity.
It is natural for us to resist emotions that are difficult to feel. Most cultures provide ceremony and regular rituals, and in Biblical times professional wailers. Today, it may be wise for us to obtain the services of a professional grief counsellor. For the suffering in resisting the painful feelings will be greater than that of expressing them consciously. Suffering is not something we as humans can avoid.
Take it from Pooh-bear. Get those emotions out in the open. When that Thing is out there, where others can see it, it won’t be as frightful as keeping it locked up inside.
Written by Margaret Verschuur