The first part of my philosophy on grief is simply, no matter who you are, how old you are, how upbeat you are, one day, you will have to face grief.
When this does happen to us, is there a ‘proper’ way to grieve?
I don’t like the term ‘proper’. It conjures up images of English Nobleman. It brings back memories of the Late Princess Diana’s funeral and her children acting ‘proper’ as they walked behind her casket and the world watched on.
I would rephrase that question as, “Is there a healthy way to grieve?”
I’m not the foremost expert on grief for sure. I’ve had to grieve many, many times in my life; over small things, big things, awful situations, and different people. Each grief journey has been different from the one prior to it. There was no real road map, no ‘proper’ way of facing it.
I would give credit to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who gave us the five stages of grief. But even this, I would have to prelude with, although she gives us five stages, these very seldom, if ever, happen in one direction or chronological order; nor are they as neat and tidy as she named them.
These stages are:
The only one of the five that always has the final word, if we brave the process, is acceptance. But even that can fool us for a short time and then we are back at anger or denial or bargaining or…
As I’ve already said, I’ve walked this journey many times throughout my life. And there have definitely been times when I believe it’s over and I have reached acceptance only to do a circle back to one of the other stages of the grief journey. Sometimes it has resurfaced weeks, months, or even years later! Grief is a journey; not a destination!
Are you surprised? Yup! This grief journey is not for the faint-of-heart. Nor is it for the fool hearty. And why would you be surprised? We are such complex beings. And the most complex part of us is our emotions.
Now, to the point of this. What is my grief philosophy? Yes, I’ve already stated that
- We all must walk the grief journey, and,
- There are formal stages identified in the grief journey. Although, they may not happen in chronological order.
But what about grieving? There is no specific way to ritualize the grief journey. Everyone, as already stated, grieves differently.
At one time it was customary when a Loved-One died, they were ceremonially released from this life and our lives with a funeral, or memorial service; what oftentimes now is called a Celebration of Life ceremony. COVID-19 has changed this process. So has time and tradition.
Growing up I remember this being filled with customs, religion and dogma, a lot of shaming of those who were not part of the particular church represented by the ceremony officiant (clergyman). It often increased the sensitivity of the grieving parties to the point that nowadays less than 20% of deaths are formally ritualized.
This statistic is rather staggering, actually. I’ve spent a great deal of time in the funeral industry, at one time doing a lot of the ‘in-house’ work involved.
It has always been the question, “What do we do with Aunty May, now? What did she want?” And may I say, “What does she deserve?”
Sometimes that meant that poor Aunty May would be cremated, and her cremated remains put in some sort of container, usually an urn, and placed in a corner somewhere, ‘until we decide what to do with her’.
Do you know how many times a family member of a new generation has come across cremated remains and have no idea whose they are? Then when they figure that out, they are left responsible to dispose of the remains in some, hopefully, dignified way. It happens much more often than you may realize.
The other sad truth is that some families don’t even collect the cremated remains from the funeral chapel. They are left for years and then the chapel is responsible to make contact with the family, several times, advertise and seek formal permission for then to then pay for an unmarked grave. They can’t just ‘toss them out’, even if that’s what you believe Uncle Jack deserved.
Back to grieving. Often when a family is ‘stuck’ with what to do with either a burial or cremation remains it is because they are stuck in the grief journey at some point, whether that be denial or anger or depression or…
It is an unfortunate truth that some decisions have to be made within hours of a death. We can’t not deal with the remains of the one who has died. But, haling back to my childhood, people do not have to formalize or ritualize a death in the hours or days following. Even the many religions who demand it are finding that many of their flock are refusing.
I have conducted an end-of-life ceremony in a living room, a backyard, a graveyard, on a boat in the cold and rain, a formal space like a chapel. I have done the ceremony within hours of death, and all the way up to months and years later.
I have done shots, laughed, cried at the side of parents burying their firstborn who’d died in the crib. I have also just sat with a grieving family and listened to the stories, felt the tears and watched them take care of the remains in their own respectable way.
What they all had in common was that the ceremony was making two marks. The first in the life of the deceased. The second in the life of the survivors. They took the time to mark and honour the life of their loved-one. They ritualized, especially in modern times, in their own way, with stories, laughs, tears, pomp and ceremony, technology, moderate alcohol consumption, tea and crumpets and more.
For the grieving, themselves, they marked the closure of a chapter in their own life. They took the time to admit that the second mark was in their own lives. Granny was gone, physically, now. They would no longer trip over to her house, or retirement community to visit. Their routines would change forever. They would now learn to live with the new normal, which would include the stages of grief and healing.