Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Nobility of Grief. And Weirdness.

She is a mother. She is and remains a mother even though her child die, though all her children die. For at one time she carried the child under her heart. And the child does not go out of her heart ever again. Not even when her child is dead …
Abyssinian noblewoman
Love & Will, Rollo May

Mother's Day 2012 is arriving.  
With its arrival also the heralding of deepened grief and longing for countless bereaved mothers around the world. 
These are mothers who, even decades after the deaths of their children, will weep for their beloved when they are alone- will pace the floors of their homes as their hearts literally ache in their chests- will still negotiate for their children's lives -  will grasp at something, anything in which to believe- and would sacrifice all they are for their children who died.

Grief is not a disease, it is not mental illness, it is not depression. It is, in fact, an expression of love. Grief can only be a disease if love is.

Grief is natural, emotional devotion, this is evolution, this is the numinous, this is God's love, this is the ineffable and the ennobling as Frankl would say. Whatever your belief, one thing is indisputable: This is a mother's heart.  And yes, that grief is noble and worthy of our pause and contrition.

Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world? It is stronger than hate, stronger than evil, and stronger than death. 
-Henry Van Dyke

I have had many inquiries as to the current status of the American Psychiatric Association's proposed pathologization of normal grief responses (The blog that started it all). They have not yet responded to our second letter.

But I did write a brief autoethnography about my experience with the "mental health" industry as a bereaved mother:

And almost 18 years later, I continue to grieve and mourn for my child because my love for her will never end. And that is, as they say, the price we pay for love. 

The abbysisan noblewoman did not know me. Nor you, bereaved mothers around the world. But in a sublime way, she does know us and we her.  We share the wisdom of the ages.  Over time, grief endured becomes compassion expressed. And decades later, our hearts continue to hurt for our beloved children. I would like to share, once again, my Mother's Day manifesto:
Mother’s Day Manifesto

This is my path. It was not a path of my choice, but it is a path I must walk mindfully and with intention. It is a journey through grief that takes time. Every cell in my body aches and longs to be with my beloved child. I may be impatient, distracted, frustrated, and unfocused. I may get angry more easily, or I may seem hopeless. I will shed many, many, many tears. I won’t smile as often as my old self. Smiling hurts now. Most everything hurts some days, even breathing. 

But please, just sit beside me. 
Say nothing. 
Do not offer a cure. 
Or a pill, or a word, or a potion.
Witness my suffering and don't turn away from me.
Please be gentle with me.
Please, self, be gentle with me, too .

I will not ever "get over it" so please don’t urge me down that path. Even if it seems like I am having a good day, maybe I am even able to smile for a moment, the pain is just beneath the surface of my skin. Some days, I feel paralyzed. My chest has a nearly constant sinking pain and sometimes I feel as if I will explode from the grief. This is affecting me as a woman, a mother, a human being. It affects every aspect of me: spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I barely recognize myself in the mirror anymore.

Remember that grief is as personal to each individual as a fingerprint. Don't tell me how I should or shouldn’t be doing it or that I should or shouldn’t “feel better by now.” Don't tell me what's right or wrong. I'm doing it my way, in my time. If I am to survive this, I must do what is best for me.

Surviving this means seeing life’s meaning change and evolve. What I knew to be true or absolute or real or fair about the world has been challenged so I'm finding my way, moment-to-moment in this new place. Things that once seemed important to me are barely thoughts any longer. I notice life's suffering more- hungry children, the homeless and the destitute, a mother’s harsh voice toward her young child- or an elderly person struggling with the door. There are so many things about the world which I now struggle to understand: Why do children die?

Don’t tell me that “ God has a plan ” for me. This, my friend, is between me and my God. Those platitudes seem far too easy to slip from the mouths of those who tuck their own child into a safe, warm bed at night: Can you begin to imagine your own child, flesh of your flesh, lying lifeless in a casket, when “goodbye” means you’ll never see them on this Earth again? Grieving mothers- and fathers- and grandparents- and siblings won’t wake up one day with everything ’okay’ and life back to normal. I have a new normal now.

Oh, perhaps as time passes, I will discover new meanings and insights about what my child’s death means to me. Perhaps, one day, when I am very, very old, I will say that time has truly helped to heal my broken heart. But always remember that not a second of any minute of any hour of any day passes when I am not aware of the presence of her absence, no matter how many years lurk over my shoulder.

Love never dies.

So this year, on Mother’s Day, don’t forget that I have another one, another child, whose absence, like the sky, is spread over everything (C.S. Lewis).

Don’t forget to say, “How are you really feeling this Mother’s Day?” Don’t forget that even if I have living children, my heart still aches for the one who is absent —for I am never quite complete without my child. And because love is much, much, much bigger than Death.
Never apologize for showing your feelings. When you do, you apologize for the truth.
-Benjamin Disraeli

Wishing all our bereaved mothers, around the world, a gentle Mother's Day, 2012, as we share, in solidarity and community, in your sadness.


Anonymous said...

I was cramming last night writing on ethics in research when out of nowhere this popped in my head in words, not as a thought, impression, notion, feeling or idea. I'm not sure why? However upon reading I may be wrong. "Jo what you do individually and what you started with MISS has brought meaning to Cheyenne's not 'becoming'". I guess it has for others and only perhaps a shred for you. I have never suffered the anguish of grief thus will never believe that I can or impose the idea that I can. After my own senseless suffering my heart aches (& bleeds) at all the suffering I hear about daily, all the senseless tragedies. This Mother's Day my heart goes out to all you grieving mothers and families more than the other days. Blessings to all.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting. I will share this with my grieving mother in hopes it will find her comfort. Thoughts to you this mother's day.

Liz said... incredibly well said!

Amanda said...

As a grieving mother, thank you. As a woman, thank you. As a mother to living children, thank you. What a beautifully written piece. Thanks for sharing your heart and your grace. xoxo

BellaSteph said...

You always know how to put what my heart feels in to words. Thank you for that. Sending strength to you and all the other bereaved mommas out there. Mother's day is one of the hardest for me. Your Mother's Day Manifesto could not be written any better.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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