Believing in Grieving?

Why do beings grieve (it’s not just humans)? In fact, what is grieving? What if I don’t want to?

It seems to be an important part of the process of letting go and making psychological adjustment. On Newsnight last night they were reporting on the various phases of emergency relief and aid that are needed in Haiti. Apparently, one of the lessons learnt from previous humanitarian disasters was that allowing survivors to identify and bury their relatives was extremely important, despite all the other major concerns and priorities in these situations, and without allowing for that can seriously hamper the recovery/rebuilding process.

It’s also witnessed on a non-personal basis too. When major public figures and celebrities shuffle off their mortal coil it now seems to be a fashion to have mass outpourings of public grief. Most notably in the UK when Princess Diana died (people have even written books about that aspect) – over a million flower bouquets left at Kensington Palace. Is that the same or can it be dismissed as mass hysteria, sentimental self-indulgence, grief porn or it is just part of our culture?

Can one truly grieve for someone you didn’t know? Indeed this then raises the possibility that it’s a choice or lifestyle thing. Is it a 20th century ‘middle-class’ affectation (in the very broadest sense – not suggesting for a moment that rich or poor don’t grieve). Certainly some think that grief is a ‘luxury’ – I first heard this phrase/concept on the radio the other day from a widow of British soldier killed in Afghanistan, and it resonated to a certain extent. However, this can be actually be traced back to the Herbert Spencer’s 19th century writings The Principles of Psychology where he equates grief to self pity. Again, like Hope, it seems to be something only really felt by sophisticated life-forms

Grief certainly seems powerful; and as a bloke that tries to avoid strong emotions where does that leave me? It seems to be a super-emotion – a collection/combination of smaller ones, which depending on the circumstances can include: sadness, pain, guilt and possibly even relief.

There are, we are told, stages to grief – five or seven – fashioned into ‘models’, like a prescription of steps you must follow or face the (nameless) consequences. But what if you are grieving for several things or another tragic event occurs before you have time to process the first – as in our miscarriage in October swiftly followed distractions of my birthday, Christmas and then another miscarriage – where does that leave these models? Especially in the situation we find ourselves now of knowing a miscarriage is on the way – when does one start grieving? Is there indeed a duty not to, to stay strong for the upcoming pain and distress.

If the child from our first miscarriage were born it would probably be their first birthday today. So, it’s a particularly odd time to be considering grief. I found it difficult then and while counselling made it clear that it’s fine to feel grief and misery I don’t know whether I do or if I do in the right way. The ‘there is no right’ way philosophy doesn’t seem to comfort me somehow. It creates too many variables and makes it even more difficult to process.

The most troubling question, as I privately sneer at those who grieve for celebrities they could not know, is that I didn’t know those embryos – collections of cells that didn’t even have a conciousness or nervous system – how can I grieve for that? Partly, I guess, it’s the extinction of Hope (that again) in each case.

Certainly, in  these circumstances, it seems it will always be fundamentally different for the ‘father’ and ‘mother’ because of the lack of bonding opportunity and direct, physical connection.

So there are my random thoughts on the matter. I cannot answer the fundamental question of whether I can believe in grief, so I must conclude it’s difficult whatever way you look at it.


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