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Are you “fine”? (The terribly low standards of our grief)

When we talk about how people are doing after a death we are basically talking about how well they are managing their grief.

Are they doing pretty badly? Struggling? Taking it hard? i.e. unable to function well – clearly upset, depressed, miserable. Unable to get out of bed. Crying often and publicly.

Or are they doing well? i.e. holding it together, not falling apart in public, able to function at work and in their every day life. Seeming ok. Seeming “fine”. ( They may well actually be upset, depressed and miserable underneath it all, but as long as they’re successfully managing to keep that in check, that is to suppress it, then that’s ok, right?)

And that’s about the best people expect in grief. To do fine with it. To cope well. To manage it.

People who are “fine” don’t tend to come and work with me. It’s usually the ones who aren’t doing fine that I work with. Who are clearly struggling. Who are seeing the results of their grief affecting their daily lives.

I wish more of the “fine” people would come to this healing work because, in all honestly, there really isn’t too much difference. Fine or not, they all tend to have the same shit going on. The difference is just whether it’s right up at the surface, or pushed down deep.

Recently I finished working with a wonderful client of mine. We worked on the deaths of both her parents, though she initially came to me about only one of them.

She had followed my work since the death of her mother many years ago. She never came to see me then though. You know why? Because she was doing “fine” with her mum’s death. But a few years later her father also died. His death was far more sudden and, for many reasons, far more traumatic for her. She tried to cope the best she could, but couldn’t manage to be “fine” with him and his death too. Eventually she came to me to work on him, because it was he and his death that was causing her so much obvious pain and trouble. She told me she was fine with her mum’s death. That it was just her dad we needed to work on.

The thing is we realised early on that we needed to work on both parents. For the difference between the two was simply that one was causing unmanageable pain, while the other had been manageable.

Though thinking of her mum and her mum’s death was far less painful and bought up far less obvious issues than her dad, we saw that she was disconnected from both of them. Unable to be free to think of them and love them easily whenever she wanted, without pain. It wasn’t easy for her to think about her mum. It wasn’t easy for her to love her mum. In fact she had a whole lot of beautiful memories in different forms (letters, etc) stored that her mum had created specifically for her, than she was unable to go anywhere near. She may have been managing her pain well…but it was still there.

So while she could see that she was fine about her mum’s death, she realised that “fine” actually really sucks. And that she could get to a much better place with both parents.

Let’s raise the standards of what we expect our relationship to be with those we love who have died.

It’s not enough to be able to cope with our pain. It’s not enough to be able to be able to think about them sometimes, but perhaps not too deeply because of the pain or discomfort it invariably causes, or maybe only to think about their death and the ‘hole’ we think they left behind.

It’s not enough to be “fine” about them.

Not when you have the option of being left with nothing but love for them. Not when it is totally possible to get to a place where you can think about them, talk about them, and love them, anytime easily, whenever you like, without it causing any pain.

It simply doesn’t make sense that those we loved so much in life should be anything but a source of love after they’ve died, rather than a source of endless pain (of lesser or greater degrees).

We don’t accept “fine” as the ultimate goal anywhere else in our lives. Stop doing it with grief too.