Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Are You Strong enough to be Weak?

Image result for crying man
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?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

This Is Us - challenge

My wife and I watched the first episode of the new show on NBC called "This Is Us" on demand today.  The show seems very good from the pilot, and I was especially touched by a particular scene when a Dr tells a young man that his wife delivered two healthy children, however, the third was stillborn.  The scene is on youtube.

The Grief Recovery Institute defines grief as "the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior."  This character has just lost a child, but gained two others. Talk about conflicting emotions!  Joy and grief mingling in the heart.  A heart that is swelling with pride, yet completely broken.  But this isn't the reason I'm writing today.

The good doctor sits down and tells his own personal grief story, not to wallow in sorrow with the young man, but to help him seek some good from an awful situation.  I was so touched by the way this was presented.  I'll let you see what happened in the show.

Challenge - (v) to summon to a contest of skill, strength, special effort, etc.; invite; arouse; stimulate. (adapted from Dictionary.com).  Challenges can also represent an awakening to a person.  A chance to open your broken-hearted eyes to new possibilities.  To expose your own suffering to let others know it's okay and that grief is normal.  To come alongside a person in deep pain and be broken with them. A challenge helped me, and I have written about it before in earlier blogs.

Can challenges like this really help in grief recovery?  Is this just TV drama or does it work?  Is it therapeutic for me to work with grievers?  I would like to hear your story.