Thursday, March 3, 2016

March: A Long and Winding Road

Many folks often ask me about my creative practice and how I continue to advocate for mourning well. A lot of the time, I am not literally "making" artwork, I am "filling the well" for when I do "make." Largely, my artwork records expressions of grief and loss. While my part time mediations and facilitations help to companion people through the issues conflict and loss cause. I take these experiences in comparison with my own, lots of visual and written research, walking my dogs and the simple day to day of being a human. This includes a lot of lemon, honey and hot water. Often there are deep talks or silly nonsense with my friends, things that happen while working part time at an art museum, or sarcasm with my NJ pedigree husband and family. Also, I am pretty terrible at caring for myself and try to put in place lots of reminders. Even with parts of reconciliation, being a griever continues, it just changes. People are forever changed by loss, therefore, it becomes the new reality.

A reoccurring theme this month was people asking what I thought about the "long stages of grief."

First, I define:

Grief as the internal normal & natural reaction to loss.
Grief as the internal conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. While mourning is the external expression of loss.

This can be very complex.

A problem for many people is that even though grief is the normal & natural reaction to a loss the vast majority of what we learn in our society about dealing with loss is not normal, not natural or helpful. We learn more about how to mend a broken arm, then we do about how to support people grieving.

Stages of grief:

The "stages" of grief originate from an incredible lady named Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. As a Swiss psychiatrist, she revolutionized the way people treat terminally ill patients while promoting compassion and more empathic care methods. In 1969, she introduced the 5 stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Unfortunately, her theory has been largely misunderstood. Her model was created while working with people dying of cancer. Therefore, "the stages" refer to the phases of grief a DYING person goes through, not a guide for grieving the death of another person. Even Dr. Kubler-Ross later stated she "never meant the 5 stages to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages." 

I want to acknowledge that if you are grieving, your relationship with your loss is unique and individual therefore your process of grief will also be. For one example, the relationship with the person you lost might not have been a positive one.

"Sailing Home"

I think of my grief as waves, at times, closer together or further apart. Sometimes big or small. These waves work their way into my artwork a lot. I am fascinated by large ships moving across large bodies of water, sunken ships and objects. Not to mention, "hold tight." 

Taking the time to acknowledge it by naming the grief, I feel helps to record and then process bereavement. Grievers are navigating between two circle, one prior to the loss and the new one beside it, the one with the loss. "Long stages of grief," for me refer to unresolved grief. Grief is like a game of dominoes. Each loss can fall one on top of another back to the behavior you learned at your very first experience. This can create a very complex mixture of different events you're grieving. Remember, grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. This can include death, illness, divorce, job changes, moves and many more. Yet, death provides a no questions reality of change.

Unresolved grief is often about the things we wish we'd said or done differently, better or more. It is also about unrealized hopes, dreams, and experiences we had for the relationship after a loss. Even in the best relationships, we are often left with plans that never got to happen. In negative relationships, the death or loss robs of the possibility of repair, therefore, preventing the relationship from becoming positive.

Unresolved grief then becomes about undelivered communications of an emotional nature and how to work through the process of grief. These can become projections into your current course or you may keep wanting to redo this relationship within other relationships or reenact the responsibilities and frustrations. It is great to acknowledge this, name it to be able to change it and then, if possible, take action to make it better even if it is a hard decision to move unresolved grief forward. I can tell you how I do my own process and know you each have your own unique path to take. I hope that through your own grief work you will find a process that supports you completely while being able to reconcile well.