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PUBLISHED: 1:49 PM on Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Our calendars are too crowded for grief

Courtesy photo
  An inability to process grief may result in addictions, abusive relationships or difficulty to live everyday life.
We are uncomfortable with grief.

Burials are sterilized, grieving family members hidden behind curtains at funeral home ceremonies.

Bumper stickers that read "in memory of ...'' and roadside memorials of Styrofoam crosses and plastic flowers replace the much too embarrassing, much too open, acts of deep, public mourning. Few of us, no matter the loss, have sobbed or wailed or torn at our hair or clothing.

When a loved one dies, we get two days off from work and are expected to return, after those 48 hours, healed and whole.

We're back to business as usual before even adjusting to the change in verb tense that comes from losing someone forever.

"She is. I mean, she was.''

We deny our losses. Hide our emotions. Are ashamed of our grief. (What would people say?)

Or too busy for it.

"Our calendars are too crowded for grief,'' said Laura Milner, associate professor in the department of writing and linguistics at Georgia Southern University.

Laura's life has been crowded with death in her 46 years.

Her childhood friend died of AIDS in 1988.

A year later, her father died from complications of Alzheimer's. Laura was 29.

Other deaths followed: a life-long friend, then a student.

Last year, Laura spent Christmas break helping to care for a friend dying of cancer.

Laura was there until the end:

"In her last hours, she pulled off the oxygen tube and breathed, as she had lived, on her own," Laura wrote later. "She rocked forward and back as tears soaked the palm trees and lizards on her white cotton pajamas. She tried to speak, to sign with her right hand, but could barely muster: 'I....I'"

The beginning of a thought forever unfinished.

In recent months, the brother of Laura's 20-year life partner died of a heart attack.

Her partner's other brother, who has the degenerative disorder Huntington's disease, moved in with them.

Laura isn't repressing her grief.

She has experienced the numbness, the sadness, the renewed commitment to naming and loving what remains and remembering what does not.

But Laura isn't interested in keeping these losses to herself.

She shares them so others will share theirs.

Laura has recounted this litany of deaths in an unlikely place, the posh First City Club in Savannah, over herb-crusted chicken and Oreo cheesecake. She gave a lunchtime talk, "When grief hits home,'' to the Commerce Club, a group of professional women.

Some might be reluctant to take death as a luncheon topic.

Not Laura.

Death, after all, is something that awaits all of us.

Laura believes we should think about the inevitability of dying every day.

And why's that?

"Remembering that we could die at any moment should enhance our awareness of the needs of others,'' Laura said, "and make us more compassionate, knowing our lives are finite.''

Laura writes about each of her losses and those of others. As a writer and former newspaper reporter she is used to putting those thoughts to paper.

She advises others to do the same.

More than anything, death makes Laura stop and become deeply mindful of this: 'no more business as usual.'

Obviously, this is a woman who has read her Kubler-Ross and Rilke. She realizes death demands we wake up. Pay attention.

Failure to process grief results in what Laura calls toxic consequences - addictions, abusive relationships, a numbing inability to feel or really live in the world around us.

"Take the time to mourn,'' Laura said. "Get familiar with your grief. Wisdom and joy await.''

Embrace the full catastrophe that comes with the death of a loved one, she said.

The range of emotions.

The crowd of sorrows.

The ugly and the beautiful.

Doing so lessens the grip grief has on us, Laura said.

And opens the door for reconnecting with life.


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