Monday, June 22, 2020

Myths about Grief - Twelve Labors of Hercules

by Hans Sebald Beham, Engraving, 1545

I got some notes wondering what working with me, art, and grief might look like. I thought I would share one of my biggest Aha's with grief. Before I begin, I want to say I am not a clinical therapist and any of the tools I bring up are for educational purposes only. You might be reading this because you are struggling with grief and I hope this gives you an idea how I work with my own and how I can work with you.

Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end or any change in a normal pattern.  It is the normal, natural and PAINFUL emotional reactions to loss or change of ANY kind. While mourning is the ability to externally express this loss. A person can experience multiple losses over the course of a lifetime, such as: a death, a move, an illness, disability and many others. This can include happy things like a marriage, graduation or new job. Largely it is a loss of some aspect of self or identity. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2002, our avoidance of grief and the conflicts it creates costs U.S. companies more than $75 billion annually.

Grief and mourning are a process and a unique journey. 

There is no quick fix. Creating a new sense of self often involves experimenting a bit. Looking at examples from art history can sharpen the inherent ability to “see” as humans while unlocking our potential for change. Linking the eye, hand, heart and head can provide discovery. While understanding the key to recovery from unresolved grief is action.

Myths about Grief - from the The Grief Recovery Method®

1.Time heals. 

Time does not heal, action within time does. People have waited 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years to feel better.

2. Grieve alone. 

Often this advice is subtly implied,“Give your mom her space” or “He just needs a few minutes alone in the other room.” A societal norm is that sad feelings should be hidden or experienced alone.

3. Be strong. 

Usually the Griever is asked to be strong for others. “You have to be strong for your... [e.g. wife]” or “Be strong for your children.” “Pull up your boot straps."

4. Don’t feel bad. 

This is usually followed by an intellectually true statement but is not helpful at all to the Griever, “Don’t feel bad, his suffering is over.” or “Don’t feel bad, at least you knew her as long as you did.”

5. Replace the loss. 

This is common with pet loss or the end of a romantic relationship. “On Tuesday we’ll get you a new dog” or “There are plenty of fish in the sea. You just have to get out there and date again.” Most likely there has been no action taken to grieve over the loss of the pet or relationship, just an attempt at not feeling the emotions attached to the loss.

6. Keep busy.

“If I just keep busy then I won’t have time to think about the loss.” Many people spend their whole lives with this mentality and never get a chance to grieve and complete what was unresolved with loss. Mostly, they are left even more tired.

None of these ideas lead us to the actions of discovering and completing the unfinished emotions that accrue in all losses.

After I learned about these myths, the images from art history of Hercules working through the the Twelve Labors came to my mind. The Twelve Labors of Hercules are: killing Lernaean Hydra, wrestling with Nemean Lion, destroying the Ceryneian Hind, killing the Erymanthian Boar, capturing the Stymphalian Birds, taking down the Cretan Bull, stealing the Mares of Diomedes, finding the Girdle of Hippolyta, releasing the Cattle of Geryon, collecting the Apples of the Hesperides, dragging Cerberus from the underworld, and the humiliation at the The Stables of Augeas. At times in my grief, I felt like I was wrestling a lion, a Hydra then only to move onto Cerberus. How about you?

by Hans Sebald Beham, Engraving, 1545

by Hans Sebald Beham, Engraving, 1545

by Hans Sebald Beham, Engraving, 1545

by Hans Sebald Beham, Engraving, 1545

by Hans Sebald Beham, Engraving, 1545

by Hans Sebald Beham, Engraving, 1545

Now, take a moment to look over the these engravings.
Draw the basic shapes noting black, white and grey also. Just a sketch.
Think about how these myths have impacted your own grief?
Write a short sentence about what you see, notice or what it evokes for you.

The Labors of Hercules
are some of the most famous tales from Greek mythology. Hercules would undertake these Labors as an act of penance for the grief he carried. As a young man, Hercules assisted King Creon of Thebes in his war with the Minyans. Later, he married Creon's daughter, Megara.
Despite being a son of Zeus, Hercules was not favoured by all of the gods & goddess. Hera, Zeus’ wife had a special hatred for her husband’s son. Hera would persecute Hercules whenever she had the chance and sent the goddess Madness to Thebes. Overtaken by Madness, Heracles kills his own children and possibly his wife. For his "crimes," Hercules is banished from Thebes, and travels to Delphi to consult with the Oracle about how to atone for his actions. The proclamation from the Oracle at Delphi was that Hercules must enter into a period of servitude with King Eurystheus, and perform any task requested hence the Twelve Labors.

We have a long tradition of the griever fighting the Lion, the Hydra, the Hind, the Boar, the Birds, the Bull, the Mares, retrieving the Girdles?, finding Apples and Cattle, and lastly dragging Cerberus back to the underworld, and even feeling humiliation, shame and isolation at the The Stables of Augeas. This myth shows the weight and labor of grief. 

I can tell you, it's never to soon or too late to recover from the pain of grief and it doesn't have to be a relentless burden. Art history, my artist practice and The Grief Recovery Method® have provided me with tools to work with my own grief and I want to share them with you.

I'll be here when you're ready.


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Ring Theory: a grief tool for understanding your place in crisis, conflict or loss.

Kathe Kollwitz, In Memoriam Karl Liebnecht

The world is grieving in a huge way right now for so many different things… But let’s zero in on one big one today... Black lives and black bodies.

The black community is grieving, and they have every right to. How can you be a good support to these grievers? If you are an ally or support person, this is not about you in this moment and DO NOT turn to these grievers to make yourself feel better. Suck it up buttercup! (More resources for understanding privilege and systemic racism at the end of this post.)

After my own losses, many people wanted me or my siblings to comfort them. Just writing that just now sounds crazy! They wanted me to be strong, educate them, and be compassionate for them so they could grieve and move on. While my family and I were, well, GRIEVING. This only left us extra tired and lonely. Honestly, I was angry at people who put my mother’s grief for my father and brother behind their own.

One of the best tools any ally can understand about grief is Ring Theory. This concept was written about by psychologist Susan Silk and her friend Barry Goldman. This simple tool will help determine what part you play in the loss, conflict or crisis.

This is just the basic gest of Ring Theory:

1. Draw a circle. In this circle, write the name of the person or people at the center of the event.

2. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In this ring, put the name of the person next closest to the event.

3. In each larger ring, put the next closest people involved in the event.

The rules are as follows:

1. Anyone in the center of the ring can say anything they want to anyone, anywhere. Kvetching, moaning, complaining, whining, cursing and fist in the air like Bender from The Breakfast Club.

2. This is KEY. Everyone else can use the above list also, but only to people in a larger ring!

3. If you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours or someone closer to the center of circle your role is to HELP, LISTEN, and COMFORT ONLY. Before you open your mouth, think is this going to provide comfort and support. If the answer is no. Let it go. People in the center need comfort and support not your advice or opinion. Things of comfort sound like: “Tell me what happened?” “Can I bring you dinner?” “How can I support you?” Then you really listen, and you commit to doing what you say you will do. You sit right in that moment with them and you hold that vessel of safety so they can take a breath, feel safe and supported. Most of the time people just want to be heard and acknowledged. By doing this their grief will begin to shift.

4.  Don’t change the subject to you and your feelings, advice or this is a bummer. Just don’t be that person. And if you do, then maybe you should admit you’re the wrong person to be here in this moment without more tools on board to help. Fair enough, own that. But if you are the only person there close your mouth, open your heart, and just LISTEN.

5.  If you are anywhere in the circle and you want to scream, cry, complain, whine, or feel the feels, totally cool. Just DO IT with someone in the bigger ring!

The whole point of this ring is to provide comfort to those inside the circle and ripple the dumping to the outside of the circle so everyone along the way is heard and can heal while finding collaborative solutions.

This is just a start for understanding privilege and systemic racism:

White Fragility – Robin Diangelo

Good Talk – Mira Jacob

So, you want to talk about race – Ijeoma Olou

Me and white supremacy – Layla F. Saad