As I do grief recovery work, I am amazed at the willingness of some people to talk about their loss and to say that they really would like to get help in dealing with it. Some of these people are the most "put together" people I thought I knew. All to often, we succumb to societal pressure to "act recovered" even though we are not. We put on our public face and march off into the world just faking recovery.
It seems so prevalent that it is expected and normal to lead two (or more) lives. This isn't just a grief problem, but a societal problem. Our society says, "If you are going to be happy and have a smile, come on in." However, the counterpoint is also true, "If you are going to be sad, do that at home, alone."
Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote the poem "Solitude" in the early 1900's which starts out with "Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone." A full version of this poem is at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45937. This illustrates my point well. Who really says, "we had a great evening crying together?" Society tells us to get in line, straighten up and "put on our happy face." We have "Happy Meals," "Good Vibrations," and of course James Brown's "I Feel Good!"
When is is proper to be sad in public? Well, funerals are a safe place to be unhappy in public, but society pretty much immediately says in just a few days, "aren't you over that yet?" So try this, walk though a busy mall or store with a big cheesy smile on your face and watch the reaction of those around you. They almost immediately smile back at you. Now do the same and allow your sad face to be evident, even tears. What do people do? Certainly there will be those lovely souls that stop to help, God bless them. But for the most part, people look away. They disconnect. They surmise and judge.
So, what can you we do about this. Well, probably nothing in the grander scale of societal change. However, we can choose to live just one life with one face. A face that shows how we really feel. Be genuine and loving. Allow yourself to be loved by those sweet people that love you or those ones in the mall that don't. Emotions are natural, they require very little coaxing to come out. It is much more work to hold them inside.
There's an analogy in grief recovery of a tea pot full of water and on a fire. In normal operation the cover of the spout has a lid that contains a whistle. When the water boils, the whistle sounds and we know the water is hot. This is much like our emotions. During the normal day, we are simmering, but things happen, memories hit us unexpectedly, and suddenly the fire is turned up. Like the tea pot, if we let the whistle sound, people will know we need some support and come help. The moment will pass and things move along.
However, if we choose to hold back that whistle, what happens? It is like we stick a cork in the spout and the pressure starts to build. We put on our fake face and pretend we are okay, while inside we are boiling. We prevent the emotions from coming to the surface and hope they will subside without a scene. Sometimes the emotions pass and fire goes back down, but the pressure in the pot remains. This happens over and over until we have a huge disproportional outburst. Our teapot blows up and we are left with a mess. Sometimes those messes are an emotional meltdown, but other times they are lashing out at people we really love. It can cause many more problems than we would have ordinarily had is we let the whistle sound.
I know people that are embarrassed by the public display of sadness. They apologise when emotions happen that are sad. To tell the truth, I am one of those people. However, I say, "let it flow and be in the moment." Don't worry about public response. Let the whistle sound. You may be pleasantly surprised at the reaction you get.
We don't need to "put on our happy face" if our sad one is there. Be one. One person with one face showing the emotions that are really present in the moment. God gave us emotions as part of our make up. They make us human.
For more information about grief recovery, check out the Grief Recovery Institute or my website.