Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Arleah on the Taboos against Grieving

Grief is one of those words that puts fear in the hearts of grown men. Women can cry, but they struggle with grieving, which has to do with the injunctions females hear about selfishness and upsetting others. It is forbidden for males to cry. Years ago I had about seven men in my practice who all sounded alike in their struggles and fears—so much so that it was eerie. I thought they would benefit from a group. They all agreed and we started to work that way. About six weeks into the group, each man took me aside and, in his own way, said, “I will do anything you ask, just don’t make me cry.”

The restrictions against grieving are numerous and powerful, and start very early in the socialization of children. I think that those taboos are there because the art of grieving changes a person, from one state of existence to another, like boiling water into steam. But steam can be condensed back into water; the change in people is irreversible and permanent. I am awed by the powerful taboos against grieving. I know about this from my work with people and my own struggles to grieve openly.

People have often expressed a deep, abiding fear that if they start grieving they will never stop—or worse, just be stuck in a funk. I have never worked with a person who didn’t continue with his or her life as usual while going through this healing process. I have deep respect for those who make that choice. I see how much strength and courage it takes to be that vulnerable and exposed.

What I would like to see happen with this book is the creation of safe places for people to grieve without being interrupted or scolded. The only partially safe place is a cemetery. It would be nice to bring back the notion of the ancient wailing wall. The only thing I have ever experienced that even comes close to what I would hope for is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in D.C. Loved ones are permitted to bring little memorials and at least weep quietly. I would wish for every bereaved person a safe place for deep, healing grief and reflection, in the daunting work of rebuilding a life.

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