How I learnt to give myself permission to express grieve emotions
Sitting on the beach, emotions in tow, I watched the waves come in and out as if they were playing to the rhythm of my breath. But as the tide went out so did the waves; it was as if they had never been. I accepted this rhythm of nature, but why can’t I accept my inevitable death or the death of my loved ones?
Our culture conditioning has handed down morphed ideas about death. We can accept the life and death cycle of seasons, plants and animals we consume but we can’t accept that of our own. We deny the fact that, just like everything else, we have to die some day. We hide our fear in emotions masked as a coping mechanism.
This is not an attempt at bereavement counselling. I am writing purely based on my own experience.
We can all go to school and accumulate knowledge, but nothing teaches like experience. I know services such as bereavement counselling have their place but wouldn’t it be great if they were run by people who have experienced the grieving process.
After all grief like any other emotions demands to be felt. How can someone who has never felt it know how to help anyone channel those emotions?
How a culture of suppression lengthens the process
I was only seven years old when my mother passed away but it wasn’t her passing that caused me years of suppressed emotions. It was what was deemed acceptable in the grieving process. As a child you soak up environmental conditioning ideas like a sponge. You reflect back whatever you feel like a mirror.
Having grown up in Africa at the time of my mother’s death; the concept of dying wasn’t new to me. Death is put on display in Africa like goods for sale on a market stall. It is then surprising that with so much visibility, people feel the need to suppress their emotions. To add even more to the confusion, Africans really express on funerals to the extent that sometimes funerals are theatrical. People can express grief in numerous ways including; singing, dancing……
Shockingly, after the funeral, it seems as if someone completely shuts the emotional gate. It is simply not acceptable to express your emotions anymore.
For a seven year old child, that was really confusing, I simply internalised the confusion and suppression.
Now an adult living in UK, I have discovered that the same culture of suppressed emotions plaques the West.
I had firsthand experience of this suppression last year when I volunteered to do the school drops for a heavily pregnant mother who was due to be hospitalised. Unfortunately, she met her demise during child birth.
The school was called and I asked the head mistress to allow me to organise a collection for the family through the school. I wasn’t only shocked by her response but also disappointed. She told me that other families should not be exposed to grief if it wasn’t their own. I asked her how the child was going to be supported if the school thought her grief was hers alone to bear. She had no meaningful response.
“Whatever happens to the least of us happens to us all.”
A need for expression
I understand that the field of psychology has come up with stages that explain the process of grief. The recommended grief process is in order of five stages which include; denial, anger, bargaining, and depression and acceptance. According to psychology, there is a specific time for the conclusion of the whole process of grief. But I have experienced emotions that play to the ticking clock?
In my opinion, this is another societal problem where we want to put everything and everyone into boxes. People grieve depending on the relationship with the deceased. There shouldn’t be a designed order or length to someone’s grief. Most people I know including myself went through the first three stages (denial, anger and bargaining) at the same time. All these emotions happened at once.
What one needs during the challenging time of ‘losing’ someone is the space to feel all the emotions. In order to transcend the emotional avalanche, you need to allow yourself to grieve. To honour the love and the relationship you had with the deceased. This is the only process there is, no cookie cutter can shape emotions – they simply need to be felt. Let the river of tears take its own course. It is the only path to healing and acceptance.
You can’t escape these emotions; I suppressed my parents’ grief for years. I thought it made me stronger to suppress but I was weaker; playing out my dysfunctions in hurting those who dared express in my space.
I was scared of being fragile and vulnerable- I was terrified of going into my heart. I was all logic!
This made me really insensitive and rigid. In the end, I was hurting myself.
I therefore invite anyone dealing with grief to not follow a tick box exercise but allow the full expression of your emotions from the heart. Especially if the relationship with the deceased; had a lot of personal value.