Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Lies Imprison, The Truth Liberates...

“Whatever is unnamed, undepicted in images, whatever is omitted from biography, censored in collections of letters, whatever is misnamed as something else, made difficult-to-come-by, whatever is buried in the memory by the collapse of meaning under an inadequate or lying language - this will become, not merely unspoken, but unspeakable.” 

-Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected prose

An Open Letter to Those Who Use Lying Language

Dear fellow clinicians and academics, family and friends, strangers and heroes, 

I grow weary of your lying language. When you speak for me - for my child - do not soften the blow of the words that sufficiently describe the horror.

I did not experience a "situation."

This is not an "unfortunate happenstance."

I need not exclude my child, should I choose not to, in the tally of my children.

My child is not "in a better place".

It is not "easier" to lose a baby than a teenager, nor is it "harder" to lose a teenager than an adult child.

Someone's loved one who died isn't "the corpse". And the death of my baby during birth is not a "pregnancy or reproductive loss". 

Stop your lying language and do not speak for me. I find your prevarications offensive, minimizing, trivializing, and superficial.

The "situation" is actually an unspeakable tragedy.  Call it what it is.

The "unfortunate happenstance" is the trauma that changed my life forever.

If you say I have four children, you are lying. I have five. If I say I have four children, it may be because I do not trust you on such sacred ground. I have the authority to make that choice for myself. You do not.

That "better place" you describe is not better for me as a mother longing to put my arms around my child.

To lose a baby is to lose a child, as valuable and precious as any other child. To lose an adult child is to lose a "baby" as valuable and precious as any younger child. Love and grief are not contingent on the time spent with a child.

And the "corpse", "fetus," or  "pregnancy loss" to which you refer does not - in the least - speak the truth about the death of my plump, ebony haired, olive skinned daughter. She is not a corpse to me, I did not lose a pregnancy, and don't say I did. I lost my daughter, my baby girl, all 8 pounds and 22" inches of her perfect body.

Your fraudulent language contributes to what Rich calls the "lies, secrets, and silence."

Stop it. Now. 

Take your duplicitous language, write it on a piece of paper, light it aflame, and say farewell to the propaganda and cultural manipulation and death avoidance that has plagued our society far too long. And if you are in our bereavement and professional community and you promulgate this language, then you are a part of the problem and an accomplice to a systemic and harmful fairytale that diminishes and devalues all our precious ones.

I realize you may not be sophisticated enough to understand this or that you may be uncomfortable with the reality of traumatic death, but I implore you to stop your writing about things which you do not and cannot fathom. Stop using your voice to tell my story. Your words are a prison of deceit, constricting and distorting the authenticity of my sentence of 'suffering'.

It is time for truth.  And the truth shall set us both - and the world - free.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Caveat emptor: Beware False Prophets and Distractions

Early grief is terror. Its dark, dank, putrid odor fills our lungs, and traces of its acerbic rancidity remain in our mouths. The torpid way it burns caverns in our brains and claws through the tender of flesh of our hearts makes us wish for something else. Anything else.

We resist being dragged into the belly of the whale, where we await liberation in the vomitus. It is the place where the darkest night is also the longest night.

Why would we not seek to escape such horror?

So, escape we do, at least temporarily. But these temporary distractions do not satiate. They, rather, make us thirst more for the ineffable and they add to our suffering.

We seek relief in drugs. Alcohol. Sex. Gambling. Infidelity. Food. Exercise. Television. Work. Parties. Spirituality.We seek relief in seeking.

Yes, we seek relief even in seeking.

We become enamored with the pursuit of spirituality, meaning, purpose, answers, certainty.  And there are many 'false prophets' (spiritual leaders, gurus, psychiatrists, mental health providers, coaches, even those within the grief community ad nauseum) willing to take your money and promise you what they can never give you: Peace. Happiness. Joy. Love. Relief. And spirituality, meaning, purpose, answers, certainty.

My friend came by this afternoon and told me a story of a spiritual teacher who was "so powerful" that just being in his presence moved people to tears. He healed "many from grief and from a traumatic past."  Of course, there was a significant price to pay for such a healing. And of course, he was so holy that you dared not touch him.

Call me skeptical, but I ain't buying it. A holy person who can heal suffering but whom you cannot touch? And one who promises to heal just by being in his presence?

Here is what I know about grief, false prophets, and distractions (gosh, how I loathe "lists" and here I am creating one):

1.  No one can "heal" us. No one else has the answers for us. No one can bring back our child or our husband or our parent. There are no drugs, prescription or street, no magic pills or potions, no G-ds or goddesses or divine beings, no short cuts through this. If we do not soon learn this lesson, we will spend many years ping ponging our way through grief, forsaking our authentic self out of fear and the unwillingness to surrender.

2.  If someone promises us a quick remedy through grief, we should engage our inner skeptic. Even if we feel some temporary relief, this state is not likely to 'stick' and any spiritual bypass is likely leading away from transfiguration.  Brass only turns to gold when consumed by fire.

3.  True spiritual leaders are humble servants. They do not expect others to wash their feet for 'healing'. They, rather, wash the feet of others. No one kisses their robes to receive redemption. Rather, they kneel at the sight of a small child or a wounded animal or a leper.

4.  A person who is willing to endure the putrid odor and rancidity of grief, the person who will walk with us into its fire, in our own time and in our way is a rare treasure. We should recognize and honor this person as a touchstone. And realize, too, that one day it will be our turn to help another. This is our sacred duty, and we should never forget this. If we do, we may experience tremendous dissatisfaction in our lives later. Ironically, once the dissatisfaction from this process hits, we may find ourselves distracting yet again.

5. Katherine Porter said, "The past is never where you think you left it." We can run - we can distract - we can lean on false 'prophets' who have built their own lives on the sinking sand, but unless we confront the pain that lies within us, whether dormant or not, we will never have real peace.

6.  Whitman said to dismiss anything that insults our souls. Yes. This. Someone else said that the best way to be deeply spiritual is to be deeply human. Yes. This. Too.

7.  Remember that from which we run is within us. We seek and chase and pursue and grasp all for naught. Both the beauty and the pain and the suffering and the healing are exactly where we are in this precise moment.

I admit I am concerned by all the 'expert' counselors, doctors, spiritual leaders, gurus, coaches- etcetera promising to cure grief, anxiety, or depression. I've even heard one claim to cure grief within 90 days! Another 'expert' charges $35 for a two-minute question, and about $2000 to spend a day in counseling with her. Many of these charlatans hijack others' work- their sagacity, experience, and compassion, claim the teachings as their own, and then charge others for what isn't theirs. I've seen this happen time and time again and it is very naughty.

Medicine has its repugnant maneuvers too: Let's not forget that according to the DSM5, you may be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (a purported mental disorder) after only two weeks following the death of a loved one if you continue to have symptoms. Of course they can ensure you get the "care" you need if you'll just listen to your doctor...

There are so many who are vulnerable and deeply wounded who seek relief from this bottomless pain. I get it. Truly, I do. Beware though: What you so desperately seek is not to be found in a spiritual leader or guru or doctor or in a bottle or a needle or a sex act.

Everything you have to become you is within you.

And only you.


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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