Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Are You Strong enough to be Weak?
As I work with grievers, I consistently realize that the subjects of strength and grief recovery are very confused. In grief recovery, it is weakness that heals the broken heart, not strength. It is the weakness that shows a person's strength, stamina, and courage. I speak with people that fear weakness and loss of composure. "I don't want to open that wound'" or "It hurts too much to go there," or even "I don't want to rehash the past" are common responses from those that fear weakness.
Recently I had rotator cuff surgery on my right (and dominate) shoulder. I am still in those first weeks where I have been told not to use my right shoulder (hand, arm, elbow) at all. My wonderful wife lovingly does so much for me. I have to be weak, so my shoulder will heal properly. Not only this, but twice a day, my wife exercises my shoulder to gain range of motion. During these times the pain is unspeakable. We both know the pain is necessary, although neither of us like to do this task. Again, I have to be weak and endure periods of pain for the proper healing to occur.
Recovering from loss is similar, even though society tells us otherwise. Society tells us to "be strong" and "pull yourself together," but society has it all wrong. I don't know when things changed, but grief was once acceptable. Widows wore black for long periods. Within the family circle, we surrounded our grieving loved ones, not just for a week, but for years. I guess times were simpler then. Now if you lose your spouse or child, your work might allow you to be away for three whole days.
Society these days does well when we are happy, but falls very short when sadness is overwhelming us. Even back around 1900 it was a problem so Ella Wheeler Wilcox penned her famous lines in the poem Solitude:
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
I would suggest you read the whole poem also at Solitude. It is so sad that grief is not publically acceptable with in many cultures.
When a griever is told that their behavior is unacceptable, what choices do they have? The two most common responses are faking recovery (e.g. acting strong even though they are crushed inside) or withdrawal. One of my favorite books on the subject calls the first Academy Award Recovery. The problem here is that we never recover and that lack of recovery saps our strength and sucks away our joy for life. Our heart remains broken and our lives are skewed away from happiness. Those that withdraw are lost in their own misery with feelings of hopelessness. Neither of these responses sound that great to me...
There is a third option for grievers; a path rarely taken. This path is to allow those feelings, those deep emotions, to well up anyway, even in public... even at work. At first, reactions will be mixed. You might even hear that you are not "handling it well." Explain to those around you that these episodes will pass in time. Explain to your coworkers that it is normal, natural and healing. Explain that their support during these times establishes an atmosphere that you need to ultimately feel better.
In a way, these "grieving moments" are like physical therapy for my shoulder. We exercise emotions and muscles that need healing. They hurt. In my case I moan and grunt during exercise: for the griever, they weep and sob. After my exercises I use ice to help. After a grief moment, a hug helps.
Don't stop here though, seek a great program like the Grief Recovery Method. Get focused on recovery. Allow yourself to open up to others. Explore the source of the pain and treat it using a proven method of small correct steps. Like my shoulder will need physical therapy, a broken heart need emotional therapy.
So, as with my shoulder recovery, it isn't the strength of your demeanor that has the most value in grief recovery, it is the willingness to be weak, the boldness to not conform, the courage to go to those soft and very painful places seeking healing. Your weakness is your strength. Are you strong enough to be weak?