I live in a high-rise apartment. That’s not meant to be important except to say that, after 28 years of living in a 2800 square foot house with a huge yard, we now live in a 1600 square foot apartment with no, repeat, no maintenance. They change our filters and lightbulbs, plant flowers, take care of the grounds, fix anything that is broken, bring us our packages, greet us at the door when we come home at night. This is nice.
While we lived in the house in a great neighborhood, of course we took great pride in our yard. My husband was a fanatic about keeping our grass mowed to putting green perfection, the shrubs trimmed and his vegetable garden planted in beautiful straight rows. I dived in enthusiastically to the task of “the beds”, digging, planting, pruning, weeding, etc etc etc. Our neighborhood was one of those passive/aggressive associations that gave out “Yard of the Month” awards during the summer. Nothing pushes you more than driving by a home with a proud YOM sign and thinking, “I’m not worthy,” and dragging yourself to the lawn and garden store for more mulch and annuals.
For many years, I found this whole digging in the dirt thing to be therapeutic and fun. What a wonderful way to get some fresh air and exercise while making the world a little prettier. You would visit with the neighbors while they were toiling away at their flower beds or trimming trees, you could get a tan (no letters, please, about the dangers of sun exposure) and your home looked so perky and happy surrounded by wonderful smiles of nature. I even won the coveted Yard of the Month a couple of times. Not braggin’, just facts. My flowers looked a little smug that whole month.
But then, as my career changed and my travels increased and, quite honestly, my body aged, the gardens that had brought such joy became so very depressing. I didn’t have the time or energy to devote to knee-to-ground work and, when I pulled into my driveway each evening, the flower beds would stare at me in accusatory blame that I was such a neglectful gardener. It sucks to be shamed by a geranium.
During my twenty-eight years of fighting the good fight with Mother Nature, I found something that every person who has ever picked up a spade discovers. No matter how effective your methods, no matter how much you spray toxic killers, no matter how many polypropylene sheets or burlap bags, rocks or cardboard barriers you put down, weeds and errant grass will find a way. Install a walkway, and there they are, little shoots of grass sprouting up between the cracks. The frustrating thing is, there were parts of my yard where I actually wanted grass to grow and it refused. It preferred to wedge and wangle its way into the uninvited and unwanted crevices.
Before you think that I’ve converted myself into a master gardener blogger, there actually is a method to this rather convoluted analogy.
Grief, just like weeds, will always find a way out. No matter how long you hide it, stuff it, ignore it, mask it, numb it, it will ultimately be expressed. Sometimes in unexpected and unmanageable ways. But, no matter how much you try, unresolved grief does not dry up and blow away. It’s always there.
I love to watch all the sad, train wreck shows on TV such as Hoarders or Intervention. My husband thinks I’m a little sick. I probably am, but I tell him that I watch them for research. It fascinates me. If you look beyond the piles of clutter and wasted bodies and truly listen to the stories, the problem always began with grief. With loss. With unresolved trauma. “When I lost my baby, I couldn’t lose anything else”, “When my mother died, I needed to numb the pain”, “After I was raped, nothing mattered anymore”. The stories are endless and a testament to the power of loss and how it affects the human psyche. We are built to grieve, to express, to commemorate, to exorcise these holes that are left when something happens to us. My wise father, Doug Manning, calls it “establishing the significance of the event”. It is just as necessary as breathing or eating to find ways to stop, acknowledge, and embrace what this change in your life means. When ignored, it settles down into dark places and finds inconvenient and, sometimes, unhealthy ways to emerge. Grief ignored is not grief dissolved. Grief ignored is grief inevitable.
Which brings me to the scary portion of this story. Given what we know about grief, about the pervasive and insistent presence of pain that will find a way out, no matter how hard one tries to suppress, let’s think about all of those families, people you may know, maybe even yourself, who chose not to have a funeral/tribute/gathering. Wow. This is big, heavy stuff. How many people, trying to avoid a funeral service that they have no confidence or belief will help them, are eliminating the one window, the one sacred carving out of time and space, the one perfect opportunity to express their loss and their sadness and be surrounded by others who share in their feelings and support their efforts to find healthy ways to cope? Because, no matter how hard they try, it will never be that moment again. They can put Mom on the mantle and say that they will have a memorial service when the family gets together for holidays. But, then it’s the holidays and who wants to stop and do a death thing? So, maybe next summer when we all get together at the lake. But, everyone’s busy and families are involved and it is just never the right time. So those stories, those memories, that grief goes unspoken and unshared.
Grief ignored is not grief dissolved. Grief ignored is grief inevitable.
A short story. As a Funeral Celebrant, I’m called upon to conduct services for many sad and difficult situations. One was particularly heart-breaking for an 80-year-old man who died of suicide. His fear of becoming ill and incapacitated just overwhelmed him. The funeral chapel was packed as we talked about his long and interesting life and the depression that plagued him until the end. After the service, a woman approached me and asked for a copy of the service. I explained that I always gave a copy of my service to the family and she could ask them if they were willing to share it with her. That was not the right answer for her. She called and emailed for two days—she was stalking me for words from a funeral! Finally, the wife gave me permission to send the service to this lady and I learned her back story. Two years before, her daughter had died of a heroin overdose. The next year her son, the twin of the daughter, died of suicide. She did not have a service for either. She thought it would be easier to just ignore it rather than go through the pain of a public gathering. Then, she attended a service where words of comfort and expressions of grief were right there, articulated in an understanding and intentional way and SHE HAD TO HAVE THAT! RIGHT NOW!
So for that friend who has never completed the grief journey. Encourage her to understand what complications can come from grief denial, and maybe have a gathering to commemorate a life lived. For that guy who never expresses emotion, have a tribute at a park or cemetery or go back to the funeral home for a do over. Find a group. Find some listening ears. Look at our book Grief’s Second Mile, Beyond The First Year of Grief. (shameless product placement). Grief ignored is not grief dissolved. Grief ignored is grief inevitable