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June 24, 2012

On Content and Substance: Things to Remember

For those of you who follow or read this Blog, I feel sure that you will find contributor Donal Mahoney's comment on the previous post of interest. The next poem to post will be an intense one about losing a loved one to suicide. So, I think this may be a good moment to share some thoughts on how we handle loss from an emotional perspective.

Here is Donal's comment: This is indeed a wonderful poem, but somewhat unsettling to read for someone like me who has never experienced emotion this strong when his own loved ones have passed away. I very much like the poem, but I would not want to live with emotion this intense for any period of time. And yet if one lives with these feelings day in and day out, there is probably no way to divest oneself of them. 

Donal's comment is insightful, important, and applies to an important fact in life, which is this: Pain is not comparative. In fact, feelings are not comparative.  Thoughts are, but feelings are not. This is especially important to remember during times of grief or loss experiences. The cut on the child's knee may seem to that child equal to the cut of a surgeon's knife on an adult.

One of the most important things we can do for ourselves and for others in grief is to honor feelings. Pero, cuidado. To honor a feeling does not mean to let it control you or have its way with you. To honor it is to acknowledge it and then ex-press it. Think of pressing clothes to get the wrinkles out, to smooth the surface of a fine linen or cotton. We, too, need to ex-press our feelings as part of honoring them.

If you browse through this blog, I believe you will find ex-pressions of feelings that represent honoring that which is felt. You can find ex-pressions  you can relate to in some way, that you can read and think, "Yes, I know how that feels." And, "It's good to know that I am not the only one to have experienced those feelings." Those feelings can range from wonder to worry, bewilderment to blessing, anger to frustration, and from sorrow to joy. These feelings are our content... not our substance. We are more than, deeper than our feelings, but they are part of our human content, and we need to "read" them to be healthy.

Donal's comment wisely points out that people feel things differently. It is as important to honor the feelings of someone who, you believe, feels things in a less emotive way than you do, as it is to honor the feelings of those who feel things more deeply than we do. To refrain from asking in frustration: "Why don't you feel more?" or "When are you going to get over this?"

The point of this blog is that, more often than not, we get along with, but in fact do not get over certain griefs. Grant Flint, whose piece "The Dying of a Mother," appears here, grew up during the Great Depression, experienced the death of his father, and then the death of the dog his father gave to him before he died. He makes an allusion to this experience in his essay. This event did not "arrest" him emotionally, but it left a mark that was simply not going to disappear. As Barbara Okun, featured here, said in an interview:  "Grief, while not pathological, can indeed be chronic." And I believe that her statement describes what many people experience. They experience grief as chronic, long-term, ever-present even as it morphs into different sets of feelings over time. Our fast-paced society has little patience with and few tools for helping with chronic grief. We need to develop that patience and find those tools.

One of the most important tools, I believe, is the art and act of writing. Writing is not just about publishing and being published. It is also about self-discovery, directed thought, insight, and finding one's way. A journal is the best of friends, record-keeper, secret-holder, insight-giver, and with time, even perhaps a great teacher about that person we need to know best:  Our Selves.

And on that note, I want to thank once again the writers who have contributed to this blog and those whose work will soon be posted. You help make this blog a safe "place" for people going through grief to visit, to feel, and to know that they are not alone in the cosmos with those feelings. Loss is part of what shapes us, just as surely as the chisel of Michelangelo shaped the Pietá, a work that reminds us that even in the depths of grief, yes, even there, a truthful beauty exists.

Blessings, all.

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