Telling Ourselves We Have No Right to Grieve
I’m no stranger to grief. I’ve had enough opportunities in my life where it was not only appropriate but necessary. But I’m no stranger to suppressing or denying my grief either. When each of my parents died, I made thousands of excuses to keep going on, business as usual while I broke into a million little pieces inside. I convinced myself the grief wasn’t necessary and got in the way of doing the things I was supposed to. In a lot of ways, both my family and Society had trained me well—too well.
I mistakenly believed, especially in my mother’s case I didn’t really deserve to grieve since she and I had such a contentious relationship. Feeling relief for one less stressful component in my life when she died made it easier to believe I had no right to grieve because it wasn’t a loss at all. Or so I believed.
Grief Has No Comparison
In the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to revisit grief, and my ability to justify denying my right to grieve. I watched while people lost their homes, their lives, their pets. I sat glued to the television in horror while a dozen people I knew mostly in passing were gunned down by a man who ultimately took his own life.
I’ve watched as parents buried their children, families buried their fathers, husbands, sons, and daughters. I ache for them all, yet the voices inside me tell me I have no right to grieve because the pain I feel from losing the place I dance and gather with friends, albeit temporarily, is nothing compared to what they’ve lost.
When Our Hearts Connect
Yet it’s more than the loss of a place because Borderline Bar and Grill has always been more than merely a place to dance. As stories are shared of celebrations, of countless marriages which came about because of meetings at that particular place, of families sharing, of connections that last for years, even when people move away; I realize not only for me, but for thousands of others, it became a home. We came together, some as friends, others as strangers, and became a family connected at the heart.
Even as so many communicate only by text message or social media, it’s been a place where cell phones are put down, if only for a few minutes, and connections are made on the dance floor, doing something that brings joy not only to the dancers, but to those on the sidelines watching.
Hitting Close to Home
We didn’t just lose people on November 7th. Even those we didn’t know well were familiar, comforting faces we saw every week. Some helped maintain order and kept the place friendly and the dance floor safe. Others were a smiling face that greeted us or served us food and drinks, raising our spirits no matter how the day had gone. No matter what role they played, they were familiar faces; people we’d come to know by sight, and who, in their own way, brought joy into the place by their very presence. But more, they were part of a family which shared in each others’ successes, commiserated when jobs or family were lost, celebrated birthdays, weddings, births, anniversaries…
Right now, the whole family is grieving. Maybe not in the same way as parents who are burying children way too soon, or fathers who had only just begun to realize dreams, or brothers who were always there to lend a hand when the road got rough. But we grieve for the huge gashes in the fabric of our family and for the pain those close to them are suffering right now. It might not be our own pain, but the pain is soul deep anyway because our family has been violated.
A Need to Justify the Unjustifiable
Still, I fight the feeling that my loss is comparatively small when I look at the people who lost a father, a child, a best friend. As part of the extended family, though, I feel the pain of unshed tears, of unanswered questions, of grief that like mine can find no outlet. I feel even more strongly the connection between me and my fellow human beings.
There is also the unpopular and often sidestepped grief for the shooter and his family as he is repeatedly denounced and excluded from the memorials as being unworthy of mention or inclusion in a group of people who, in many cases were heroes trying to make the world better, or sacrificing themselves so others would be safe, or simply a smiling face lifting the spirits of everyone around them. But I believe we as a society failed him as we fail others who feel detached and disconnected.
Digging Deep to Find Our Compassion
Admittedly, it isn’t easy to reach out to people who are continually angry or depressed. They’re harder to be around, more difficult to love, and sometimes impossible to understand. Some isolate themselves, then blame their isolation on society, and rightfully so. Even in a family, you often have to fit in first before you can start showing your broken parts. Some people are so broken, they believe the only way they can hide those uncomfortable parts is by staying within their own four walls.
I’ve been that person, though never with murderous intent. I’ve been alone and angry with the entire world, yet desperate to belong somewhere, in need of comfort that wasn’t forthcoming. But I was fortunate. I learned to find and be my happy self until I found acceptance and windows of opportunity to allow the chinks in my armor to widen and eventually break off in chunks. I’ve opened up too much to the wrong people to be sent scuttling back into my shell to lick my wounds and regroup. But thankfully, I’ve never spent so much time inside my own head where those wounds fester and infect my entire being. Too many aren’t as lucky as I’ve been.
Helping Each Other Unlock Our Self-Imposed Prison Doors
Still, the grief continues to be locked inside me. I still feel I need justification to share my grief with those who’ve lost so much more. Even in the privacy of my own home, I’ve yet to shed more than a few tears, though many more are dammed up inside me waiting for an opportunity to flow.
The walls I reinforced after my mom swallowed too many sleeping pills, and again after my dad put a gun to his head to end his pain are no longer the insurmountable edifices they once were. Some came crashing down with the violence of a 7.0 earthquake. Others have slowly dissolved into dust. Clearly, some still remain if I believe I need justification to grieve this latest loss. As I look around, I see others who struggle to grieve, to understand, and who continue to wrangle with the right to be compassionate with themselves.
I realize we all have a right to grieve, but in some ways, it’s also a responsibility. We have to release the pain, the anger, the confusion so we can begin to heal. Without healing ourselves, we can’t help others begin the long journey from a place of immeasurable pain to where they can start to feel those angels on their shoulder who are never truly gone.
Finding the Gratitude in the Grief
My gratitudes today are:
- I am grateful for my writing which is a constant source of comfort and release during a time when the news and faces around me are a long chain of tragedy and loss.
- I am grateful for my friends who are connecting more strongly and deeply than ever, though I wish it didn’t have to involve so much loss.
- I am grateful for all the people who have come forward to support others, even mainly strangers in time of need. It gives me hope for the overall human condition.
- I am grateful for compassion. We need more of it. We need to recognize how much more valuable it is than power or control.
- I am grateful for abundance; compassion, love, connection, support, family, opportunities, soul searching, recognizing each others’ hearts, peace, hope, harmony, health, philanthropy, and prosperity.
Love and Light
About the Author
Sheri Conaway is a writer, blogger, ghostwriter, and advocate for cats. Sheri believes in the Laws , of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. Her mission is to Make Vulnerable Beautiful and help entrepreneurs touch the souls of their readers and clients so they can increase their impact and their income. If you’d like to have her write for you, please visit her Hire Me page for more information. You can also find her on Facebook Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author or in her new group, Putting Your Whole Heart Forward.