The Grief Beast

All images in this post  © Intellectual Reserve

All images in this post
© Intellectual Reserve

Hers was a telling admission. After three years of regular interaction during which she avoided mentioning our family’s loss, she was now moving away. First, though, she said she needed to talk to me: “Privately, please? I need to get something off my chest.”

When she approached me that last day, head low, trying to smile, I saw regret in the tears that quickly filled her eyes. I listened. At first, she tried to laugh (her defense mechanism), but couldn’t quite hold that smile in place as another part of her began sobbing. Right there, in a pew at church.

“Dang!” she giggled, her hand to her mouth. “I can’t believe this. I’m such a boob!”

And I sat, staring, waiting.

moon bridge

Then she shook her head, smiled briskly, and took the breath of someone ready to dive off a cliff. What she shared sums up a whole host of complexities that are part of facing, acknowledging, and entering into another’s grief: “A parent’s worst nightmare,” she shuddered, “I hope you’ll forgive me, but I just didn’t dare get close to it, to you.”

Ah-ha. Now I understood her months of unease around me. Her nervous chirpiness. Her bursts of laughter. She wasn’t afraid of me. She was afraid of my Grief Beast.

**

iguazu falls

The Grief Beast, for lack of a better description, is a hybrid of Jabba the Hut, Sasquatch and Grendel. His head scratches any twenty-foot ceiling and he does not speak; he swills. He is warted and hairy and lumpy – a shaggy, matted, slate-khaki thing with fur balls and sodden patches formed from sitting for long stretches in pools of tears and mucus.

The Beast emits a sharp-sweet rotting compost odor that can make your eyes burn, a fact that makes me wonder how others – the non-grieving – cannot smell him out; or if they do smell him out, how they can pretend he’s not there. He trails you everywhere, tethered to your heart, shedding molting fur and spreading his sickly aroma wherever his deep sloppy footprints leave their trail. His breathing, if you want to call it that, is gravely and loamy –subterranean – with moistness that slithers right down your collar suffocating you when you have to go out in public or respond to the flip line, “So, tell me about your kids!”

biggest aurora

When you awaken day or night, he is right there, squat at the side of your bed, glaring. When you try to move, he insists on moving with you or even climbing on your back, which makes every effort arduous and weighted, like slogging through tepid, thigh-deep oatmeal. He skulks and overbears, his shadow spreads to every corner, even those inaccessible, private ones. He appears one day like that, and is there for the longest, eternal time. But in those first days – and this is the dilemma his presence creates – you are still learning how to live with him and how to respond when others ask, even if just with their eyes, what on earth the matter is.

Well, clearly, he is the matter. He is the matter with the earth and the whole universe. He is something that really matters.

Grief matters. He is real.  And he is bigger and more obstinate – more dangerous and more uncomfortable – than most of us would care to know first-hand.

adaptive roots concrete jungle

**

Some of us, when we encounter someone else’s Grief Beast, react to it like we are face-to-face with a grizzly bear: we slap our hands over our eyes and run, shrieking.

Others of us freeze then tiptoe away slowly, unable to breathe a word, straitjacketed.

Others grab for weapons. We want to do something to beat it back, beat it up.

Others think, “Hold on now here. I’ve seen Beasts something like this one before. Maybe I’ll do the same thing to this one I did to that other one to get rid of it.”

Others size up The Beast, concluding that, heh, he’s not such a big deal after all. A bit exaggerated in all our minds, if anything. A big, Spielbergian Special FX.

above the canopy

Still others pretend The Beast is a wooly apparition that will skulk off into a forest if he’s just ignored long enough.

On the whole, we are either scared stiff and begin fidgeting, laughing, juggling, whistling in the dark – whatever our learned defense mechanisms might be, or we spectacularly underestimate just how vicious The Beast is.

All these knee jerk reactions are human. And we humans, by nature, are really not all that courageous.

It takes courage, a special kind of courage, to face The Grief Beast.

walrus

We might have learned some forms of  faux courage along the way – toughness, callousness, brazenness, dare-deviling our way through life –  but those are lower forms of courage because they are in their most elemental particulars (if you could check out their ribosomes under a microscope, let’s say) self-preserving, not self-giving.  And self-giving is the most elevated form of courage.

(Voilà, and there you go. Melissa’s philosophy in a nutshell. Take it or leave it.)

colliding rivers, geneva

If we’re self-preserving in the face of another’s Beast, we’ll react in certain ways: Is this thing dangerous, am I going to get hurt? Infected? Shredded? Just like him?

Or, if I reach toward him will I get the Beast riled and he will run amok?

And what if someone. . .well, what if someone. . . what if I should cry?

moutn rainier

So, to avoid all of the above we do not acknowledge the distress, no matter how huge it might be. We never bring up the horrible, sad thing. We don’t say a single word. Not even the name of the thing that summoned The Beast in the first place: the name of the deceased. We make the tragically wrong assumption that that must be what the guy with The Beast hanging on a thick iron chain wants, too. Although it’s his Beast for a while and he’s chained to it, he wants to forget the Beast, wants to talk about anything — snow tires, the best antacid medication, Snooki’s lipgloss – anything but The Beast.

faroe islands

Fearing for everyone’s lives, we sidle away graciously, deftly, eyes darting, chins dipped, heads turned slightly to the side, hands steadied. Surely we don’t want anyone around here to get their heads grizzled off. Under our breath the bereaved can almost hear our whispers, “Easy boy, Eeeeeasy.

raft of canoes

Yes, it takes a certain breed of courage – a courage-in-vulnerability – to address and enter into another’s pain, to look right into the eyes of someone’s Grief Beast, acknowledging its presence. This courage is not casual or flippant; it’s not the kind of pretended courage that tosses its head back cavalierly, dismissing with lots of proverbs and greeting card couplets the threatening dimensions of the Beast.

kilamanjaro

In fact, I’m not entirely sure that real courage needs to talk that much.

What might it do, then, this kind of courage I’m advocating for? I’d wager it’s counterintuitive for some of us. It is, at least, for me:

I think this kind of courage will walk up. It will look at the guy, his chain, his Beast. It will reach for the chain, asking to hold it, weigh it. (He had no idea, until he held it in his own hands, just how heavy that sucker was.)

sunset eclipse

And then Courage will take a seat next to the guy. There, Courage can feel the struggling unevenness of the guy’s heartbeat, the coldness emanating from his skin.  Courage will certainly sense the Beast’s muggy breath, its putrid stench, its murky shadow. Courage might ask, after a spell, “Please. . .can you tell me?”

Or. . . it might not ask.

Because this is the secret: Courage is able to sit. It is able to wait right next to the guy, right beneath The Beast. It will sit, in fact, as long as both guy and Beast allow, and in that silent sitting Courage will discover that its most pressing questions are somehow, wordlessly answered. Courage won’t need to ask a thing.

Buddhist monks chant at Pongour Falls, the largest waterfall in Dalat, Vietnam.

**
world's edge

From Grief and Grace: Collected Voices on Loss and Living Onward

The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them—words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried as you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.
—Stephen King, Different Seasons, 293

40 thoughts on “The Grief Beast

  1. Hi Mel – I wanted to write a comment but wasn’t sure if this is your writing or a long excerpt from the book you mention at the end of it? xo Sarah

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Hi, Sarah–This whole post is me, true blue all the way through. The quote at the end (from Stephen King), is from my anthology, Grief and Grace, which is still in approval stages (so many quotes require so many legal permissions), and we’re waiting to see when it will be published. I’ll keep everyone posted. ox Mel.

  2. We really liked the Manti Temple picture posted ehre. We were hoping you had a higher quality photo you could send us or post online? my wife really wanted this exact picture but needs it with a higher resolution.

    • Nathan, Isn’t it gorgeous? Oh, I love that temple, everything about it. My father took that shot, I believe (i’ll double check my files), or it could have been one of my own or my husband’s. I’ll scramble and track it down and will send it right to your email. Thanks for stopping by here!–M.

    • Magiart–Thank you very much. A friend from Paris, someone who actually was best friends with our son Parker, was visiting me recently here in Switzerland and mentioned that my description to her of grief as a terrifying and perpetually trailing beast had rung true to her. That’s how she had experienced especially that first year after losing her best friend, our son. So I composed this with her in mind. I’m grateful it was effective for you, too.—Mel.

  3. Melissa, you have more courage than anyone I know. Thank you for sharing this. I’m so glad I know you and your family. I’m so glad that I got to meet Parker before his untimely accident. I’m so glad I got to witness your family’s courage.

  4. this post hits so close to home for me. i am your friend in this scenario. i have a friend who lost her 18 year old daughter in 2010 and another friend her lost her 10 year old daughter in 2011. I know i was not the friend they needed and it was my own inadequacies and insecurities that kept me at a “safe” distance from their grief beast. God bless you and your blog.

    • Sweet Number 9- Well, my friend, that is a courageous admission. I think we’ve all been the arm’s length non-friend to those in grief in our lives. I am certain I was before I understood the inside of tragedy. Here’s hope: unless your friendships ended in a clean break because your friends felt abandoned or their grief misunderstood, (in which case what I’m going to propose might not work), it is never too late to write a note of sincere heartbreak for what you simply did not understand. If those friends can trust to let you in again (and wonderful if they can!),then write a letter. Tell them you read some random blog, and the blog struck a chord and you felt remorse. And you love them. And you are still eaten up inside by the calamity in their lives. That you want to remember their daughters. That their lives and deaths matter to you.

      I’ll tell you, Number 9, I know from experience that when that honest reconciliation happens, it can be one of the most powerful, cleansing exchanges in one’s life. Don’t mean to coach you or give you homework assignments here :), just want to share what I’ve learned. And Number 9, God bless you, too, and your friendships.—M

  5. Grief is often lonely and solitary. I lost an old friend last week, and almost no one wanted to talk about it. I told my parents, who are both ordained ministers and deal with grief on a regular basis, and they could just say “Awww…”, and stare at their shuffling feet. Even amongst my mutual friends, I could only find one person who really wanted to open up about it. We all would meet, just to be together, but no one would talk. I found that very disheartening, until I realized that we all grieve in our own solitary way. The Grief Beast can be very powerful.

    • This was Connie you lost? (I’m following your blog.) I am sorry to hear this and to know a bit of the grueling story behind it. SO. MUCH. SUFFERING. in this world. And so much to learn from it, even if we’re peripheral players in the drama.
      A thought: some people (writers?) who publish books (and blogs) traffic all the time in words. Words are often their tokens for dealing with grief. Other people might not be so suited to words; they might find words useless, generic, a waste of effort.

      I know that feeling of being in an emotionally charged moment and the sole response next to me is an “awwww. . ..” and shuffling feet. Disheartening, yessir.

  6. This really resonates with me. When my mother died of cancer, some of the people I know said nothing, some offered platitudes (including the hated “everything happens for a reason”), and some tried to change the subject or otherwise discourage me from talking about it. The people who helped me most were the ones who didn’t try to say the right thing — they were just *there*.

    • Leslie–Pre-cise-ly. This has been my experience, too. When you’re grief-stricken, your skin is peeled right back, exposing all your nerve endings. With our nerves exposed, the slightest casual bump of thoughtless, generic words or that terrible dry scratch of avoidance and suppression can cause us to recoil in agony. You remember that feeling, right? The astonishment that those even closest to the implosion simply clamped shut or insisted that you clamp shut.. .? Grief is synonymous with feelings of isolation, existential isolation. One feels singled out, catapulted to a distant sphere, marked, shot through the gut. The presence of others (the arms on the hinge, from my last post) combat that sensation of spinning helplessly off an edge and into an abyss. So simply being *there*, at that edge, as you attest to, is an enormous and saving power.

      Please keep coming back, Leslie, since I need your voice in future comments— Kind hugs to you–M.

  7. Anaolgy and imagery are extra powerful for me. Thank you for this new way of seeing and understanding the way grief affects a person. This will stick with me for a long time and I hope it can be useful as I try to be sensitive to what others are going through, dealing with, carrying around, and concerned by. Perhaps this beast can also represent other things, or rather, other things can be represented by beasts of various kinds.

    However, the image of being chained to a beast brings out the natural human instinct to want to fix the problem, cut the chain, tame the beast, or figure out how to make it go away. Whether it is my beast or my friend’s beast, it is- as you say- counterintuitive to sit by the beast and be comfortable with that. But that is most certainly what the guy with the beast needs. That’s not only courage but love in its purest form. Charity. The love that Christ has. Thank you, again.

    • Maren, Oo, I love it when i find you here, sister. There are certainly other analogies and images that might fit better for other people, and I have several I’d still like to write about. What is helpful about the Beast imagery for me (and maybe for others), is its sudden arrival, the perpetual presence, its weight, and its effect on others.

      One has to be careful with metaphors like this, though, because we know all metaphors eventually break down. And there is a glaring weakness in what I’ve written with the Grief Beast: I haven’t analyzed what it feels like to be schlepping that beast when it is *invisible* to others, known only to you. How many friends do I have who drag Beasts with them that others are incapable of seeing or Beasts they must hide?

      Surely you’ve distilled it: love in its purest form. Charity. The most demanding quality of them all. The all-inclusive one.–Warmth as always, Maren—M.

  8. Love the pictures and words . The grief beast, perfect description. Thans again for gift of words and pictures too.

    • Catherine–Glad to see you here and to know this means something to you. We all will have different losses, different sorrows, but it’s striking to me how fitting the beast image is. I think you know it too, don’t you. . .ox M.

  9. Melissa, as i read your words I realized that, I too, have avoided ‘The Grief Beast” as many others have commented here….my husband’s sister’s daughter (my niece) passed away tragically at the age of 21 a few years ago. I am sure I offered the typical consoling words, but shied away from continuing to bring up my SIL’s loss and ask how she is “handling things”, etc. I felt in doing so, It would cause all her pain to resurface and force her to maintain her composure to avoid breaking down. Therefore help me to understand….when does it feel like true concern, love, remembering and caring….and when does it feel like someone being nosy, insensitive, untimely, and inappropriate? My eyes have been opened and I do plan to write my sister-in-law and share my love and care for her and her loss. Thank you for what you are doing here Melissa…I don’t think you realize how much you are helping people.
    I also love seeing all the pictures of Parker you have posted…I always thought he was a true star.
    Hugs,
    joAnn Briscoe

    • JoAnn- You’ve asked the question: When does it feel like true concern, love, remembering and caring….and when does it feel like someone being nosy, insensitive, untimely, and inappropriate?

      I’ve written six responses to your question, and zapped every one of them. Even knowing something about grief myself, I’ve still made untimely, insensitive blunders in trying to mourn with others, I’m sure. I sent emails to people i did not know but whose loss had struck me deeply, and they did not respond. (I’ve imagined them being outraged that I would be so presumptuous. I fear now I was being intrusive. ) I have asked a personal question in a face-to-face encounter with a bereaved friend in an attempt to generate conversation, and have been bluntly rebuffed. There is no foolproof way to gauge when/where/how you can help someone in great pain.

      So why not just say exactly that? Straight out? Why not say to our grieving friend, “I ‘m a bit scared about doing this. I’m uncertain, I don’t know what helps or hurts you, I know already that I’m going to probably make a mess of this. I’ve never known your pain.” We start there. We make ourselves vulnerable. That’s a good thing because few things are as painful (infuriating, ridiculous, offensive) as an invulnerable co-mourner! The guy with the sure-fire recipe for Grief Success, the one with all the answers, the pat on the back, the platitudes. The one who has never known great pain before. . Aeck. Pleeeez remove thyself.

      After we get nice and stripped-to-the-bone so the co-mourning is uncomfortable for us (it should be, after all–that’s the entire point!), then we can say, as a wise friend did to us, “I’m trying to learn from you, from your experience. Can you help me understand? I’m here to listen to anything you can tell me.”

      The I AM HERE is magnificent. Here to listen. Here to learn. Here to suffer with you. Here to talk, only if you want, about your loved one. You can also add, “I’ll get out of your face, too, if I get the slightest signal. I am following your lead. This is about you, not about me.”

      Sheesh. . .thinking I should delete this answer, too. 🙂 I prefer describing than prescribing, and so I’ll keep working at that in the posts to come.

      We all struggle for spiritual guidance. We all fall short. We all keep trying, trusting that answers will come and that others will be forgiving.

      –Much love always, JoAnn. ox M.

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  11. Hi Melissa,

    I have just started following your blog, and I thank you so much for sharing your journey.

    First let me express to you my heartfelt condolences for the horrible loss you and your family have suffered. You have experienced the unthinkable, and even though I don’t know you and didn’t know your son, the pain of your grief brings tears to my eyes. I look at my own two daughters and wonder, for the instant I can even think about it, how I would survive losing one of them?

    I work in a museum and curate historic photographs. One theme that appears constantly in these images is mourning dress. When my father died three years ago, and I returned to work the day after his funeral, and people were all uncomfortable and acting like, well that’s all done, she’s over it so just avoid her for a while, I wished desperately that we actually still had a mourning custom, that I could be dressed or wearing something that would say, “I have suffered a loss and am in no way over it and never will be and you must be conscious of what I am enduring and how my life has changed forever.” People equate 19th century mourning customs with Victorian neurosis, but societies have had the “rituals” of mourning in place for time immemorial….until now. We have gone from acknowledging and respecting a person’s grief to wishing they would just get over it and move on. As if that could ever happen. I think the assumption is that in those days death and loss of children was so common people were just used to it, but they decidedly were not. I have read their words of heart wrenching grief and loss, parents who were inconsolable because a daughter had died in childbirth, mothers and fathers whose children had died in an accident or in a battle and who were on the verge, if not in the middle of, a breakdown. Mourning not only allowed for these people to grieve their losses, but also served as a reminder to others that this person was now existing in another dimension. And they knew how to offer comfort and acknowledge loss, through words expressing their empathy and wishes that God would help them endure their suffering and that they would find comfort in him.

    My greatest trial came 15 years ago when my mother died, the great love of my life (as are my children). I grieve her today, and will never stop grieving her. Why? Simple. I love her. With every breadth and fiber of my being. She’s gone, but that love still burns as strong as it ever did. About a year after her death I just kind of woke up one day and wondered what I had been doing the last year. Where had I been? The fact is I was only functioning, but my soul was immersed in a loss that no words can describe. Somebody said to me about six weeks after she died, “it’s time to move on.” I remember feeling so stunned. What you’re telling me is that this person never meant anything to me and now I can just stop loving her and missing her desperately? Because it makes you uncomfortable? Maybe if I had been wearing some symbol of mourning it would have prevented such callous words. But we think today we have defeated death and so people need not be so concerned and emotional about it. How wrong they are. I think this mentality is what has brought us to a point where you are writing the words you wrote in this blog about grief, that people don’t know what to say so they don’t say anything. I have found with the death of both my parents that it was really up to me to break their discomfort by just telling them how much I appreciated their presence, that words didn’t have to be used as they watched me weep. Being there and letting me have my feelings was what was required. For those who apologize years later that they avoided me because they didn’t want to bring it up, it is easy to forgive them, but their weakness is not coveted. They haven’t understood that there are no right things to say to a grief-stricken person that will make them stop hurting. And that isn’t the point in the end anyway. So the grief stricken end up making them feel better by talking about it and comforting them.

    My uncle died in 1928 at the age of 14 when a creek bank collapsed on him during a Boy Scout trip. My father was born two years later. He never knew him, we never knew him, but it was something that our family has never gotten over. My grandfather wore a black tie or black armband for the rest of his life. My aunt who only just died at the age of 92 still talked about him with a sadness that 80 years later had never left her. When my brother’s son was born 13 years ago, stillborn but revived and terribly brain damaged as a result, I’ll never forget the look of horror on my father’s face. The loss of a child was happening again in our family. My little nephew lived for 10 months, and when he was finally dying after a long, brave struggle on his little part, I asked my brother how he was doing it, enduring this nightmare. He said, sobbing into the phone, “It’s a beautiful thing. It makes me feel how alive I am. The value of life comes in pain as well as joy.”

    I know your boy would not wish his mother to suffer so, and I know you know that, but in the end that is what makes us alive. Love. Everlasting, enduring love.

    Sorry to be so wordy. 😦 It does help to talk about these things.

    Drury

    • Drury- With ideas so valuable, deeply-felt and finely-worded, I can only thank you for being what you call “Wordy’. Seems you should be writing the book! I do hope that this comment of yours gets to lots of readers, that others will add to your copious observations, that this will stimulate a gentle tide change in how we respond to the ubiquitous but singular experience of significant loss.

      As I continue to post on this subject, I’ll address what I see are the two parallel trends in professional grief therapy today: acknowledging a continuing bond with the deceased, and resilience (which, in the works of Ruth Davis Konigsberg at least, read a like a simple reworking of ancient stoicism.) I believe that the two (a recognition of a continuing bond and the quality of resilience) are closely related to one another. Sociologists have long noted that cultures with traditions in place that acknowledge a perpetual connection with those gone ahead into death tend to be the most resilient” in the face of death itself.

      So my question is this: could it be that the seeping secularization of the west has denied (or made to seem like sheer foolishness) the possibility of a continuing bond? And that is why we’ve all but obliterated any regularized traditions (Arm bands? Black ties? Black curtains? Annual memorials?) that help families and communities remain connected in a legitimized way to the deceased? Is denying the harrowing plunge into grief and insisting on stocism really a healthy answer to this human trauma? Are we really going to buy that thinking?

      And whew, I’m sorry for being so wordy:-) I appreciate your brother’s response to his own life and death nightmare: “It’s a beautiful thing. It makes me feel how alive I am. The value of life comes in pain as well as joy.”

      Will you please tell that brother I want to quote him in another book?

      Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts in the forum. Please keep coming back, Drury.—M.

  12. Hi Melissa,

    I’m sure my brother will be fine with you quoting him. His name is Jamie.

    I think really what the problem for us in U.S. culture isn’t stoicism, it’s denial!!!! We just act like there is no death, and that when it sneaks up on people they just have to get over it as quickly as possible, because there just is no death. But we have also become a culture where your worth revolves around how many televisions you have and how many SUVs you drive. Doing for others, community, sacrifice, that’s less important it seems. Your bay boy died? Who does that anymore?

    A very wise friend of mine said to me after my mother died, “always remember, there are no rules to grieving.” I was so grateful to her for that. We think now that we aren’t supposed to feel as deeply as we feel when we suffer a loss. We have shopping malls and reality t.v. to comfort us.

    It’s been a week. You should be feeling better!!

    What?

    What my friend was really saying of course was , if you cry for a days, months, years, or if your coping skills are such that you prefer stoicism, fine. Whatever gets you through is fine. Obviously there are extremes that are not fine because of the ripple effect it can have on others who are grieving, etc., but there can’t be any way that we as a culture can actually think, “grief usually lasts 2-6 months.” That’s crazy.

    My mother told me once, “you never stop grieving when somebody you love dies, you just get used to it.” She was right.

    The Mexicans have really got it going on when it comes to a culture that fully acknowledges that death is just a part of life. I lived in Mexico City for a few years and actually my mother died there. They firmly, firmly believe that the dead are always with them. It is celebrated every year, of course, with Day of the Dead. But they have no doubt that those they love who have died are still beside them every moment. Unlike us, they do not fear death, at all. A friend who was a foreign correspondent and had to travel the area all the time there was laughing about it one time. She had developed an excruciating fear of flying, and would have to endure bumpy flights all the time because Mexico is so mountainous. She said while she would cringe during turbulence the Mexicans would be going “Wheeeeeee” with their arms up in the air.

    This is not to say that they don’t grieve their dead terribly. Some of the “memorials” during Day of the Dead, especially for children, are incredible. But they have no doubt, at all, that they will be with those loved ones again. It’s really, really nice.

    Mexican families also bring mariachi bands into the hospital to play for new babies and sick or dying relatives. Life and death are intertwined, and both are celebrated equally.

    I think our new non-reaction to death, our denial of the need to grieve, is really just a display of our utter fear of it. It’s sad. It makes it so difficult to live right!!

    Hope you’re doing okay. I have to read your new posts!

    Best,

    Drury

    • Hi again, Drury–Your point it well taken and I agree. The “new” stoicism is probably just another form of denial. The works that address stoicism, though (the most popular being Ruth David Konigsburg’s The Truth About Grief) seem to veer into another related direction: that longing and pining that extend throughout years are somehow pathological, and that acute grief (which takes all sorts of forms and which can last for many months beyond the tidy 2-6 in medical journals) needs treatment/intervention. The author, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to distinguish between the many different shades of loss through death (whether is was an anticipated death, a spouse’s death, a child’s homicide or suicide, etc.), and instead seems to treat all loss in one broad brush stroke. This is a weakness in her study, I find. Her overarching argument is that we humans are resilient. We “get over” stuff. What’s all the wailing and groaning about?

      Clearly humans are resilient. I am resilient, as are you. We are highly functioning adults who go to work and entertain our guests and write our books or blogs and remember to take out the trash on Tuesdays. But we still grieve. Resilient, yes. But changed profoundly by major loss, yes.

      I have another thought, and it comes from reading a work by renowned British grief researcher Geoffrey Gorer, wherein the author points to the modern west’s “pornography of death.” This means that death has replaced sex as the topic we hide but by which we are unduly fascinated. A century ago our culture suppressed healthy discussions about sexuality, but that was exactly when the pornography industry grew exponentially. Now we refuse healthy discussions about death (we are in denial, as you said) but we are a culture chasing wildly after stuff to fill our gaping horror over our mortalit and we are at the same time producing movie after movie after movie gushing with bloodlust. The ubiquity of death in popular media is a kind of pornography that (like sexual pornography) desensitizes us to the sacredness and intimacy and the lasting reverberations that remain in the wake of death. In short, we might not allow ourselves or others to grieve because we’re living in a fantasy cinema seat, waiting for the credits to roll.

      (Gorer didn’t write that; I did.)

      Adn there you have it: what you refer to as the “new non-reaction to death, our denial of the need to grieve” which is, and I agree “just a display of our utter fear of it.” And, I’d add, manifestation of our spiritual dullness. We’ve been Terminatored and Die Harded to emotional numbness.

      What do you think? What if we had a media that focused not on the thrill of sex or the thrill of killing or being killed, but focused on the reality of caring for a relationship (or a child) and, taking my parallel further, the weight and the wait of grief. Grief with its slow, heavy, nearly-paralyzed movements doesn’t usually make much of a movie, I don’t think 🙂

      Always energizing to read your ideas, Drury.

      And thank your brother Jamie for his wisdom. You come from one wise family tree!

      –Melissa

  13. I imagine that grief at a time of loss and forever after is something not truly understood until experienced by the individual. We can imagine, we can visualize, we can turn and run in fear and avoidance..,for some day that beast will be ours and ours alone.

  14. I utterly agree with your observations Melissa. The pornography of death (such an apt description) has led to desensitization I believe. We watch killing in popular media, but only killing and not dying. And again you use such perfect wording in describing the SACRED nature of death and grief. They are events that put us in touch, force us to be in touch, with our spirituality. We have come to believe that spirituality is a thing, or a reward system, or something. It is far from that, and you are helping a whole lot of people understand that through your beautiful posts. They make me cry.

    Speaking of which, have you found that laughing helps as much as crying? I have.

    • Drury- Great question: laughter? I’ll be frank that it took a long time (months and months) to laugh even once and authentically. It was not that I was primarily opposed to laughter, although I was repelled by light-mindedness. Heck, could barely smile,let alone generate the enormous energy I felt necessary to laugh. It was simply that I could not find humor or silliness or even much pleasure anywhere, in anything. Randall was the same. (Our children were different; each laughed at different points and from different motivation and even as a defense mechanism. Each a unique response to great and ongoing grief.)

      I recall the first moment (where I was, with whom, doing what, what I was wearing, what lights were turned on, the physical sensation like a crack in my bones) when I expelled my first single “Ha-ha!” laugh after many weeks of weeping. Weeks later, I laughed again. Once. Then weeks again, one single puff of a laugh. Like a sputtering Model T Ford whose engine simply could NOT turn over.

      At some point (and I recall when and how, but it’s too detailed to describe here), I was not only able to laugh, but I wanted to laugh. For OTHERS. It was for my children. I wanted them to see me laughing and smiling and teling jokes. Why did this happen? Because I love these creatures, and I knew that their oldest brother had enjoyed a Mom who was humorous, youthful, hilarious at times, open and lithe-of-spirit. Was I going to rob my living kids of the right to such a Mom? Were they going to suffer the rest of their upbringings under the weight of my grief? So I trained myself to laugh.

      It was a good thing.

      The results were so positive, I decided this was important not only for my children and my marriage, but for everyone within my circle of influence. I would not be light-minded in the giddy and frivolous sense, but I could be light-hearted. There is so much pain in the world, and simple good cheer is a contagious energy. It’s needed. I would not force laughter onto others in great pain, of ocurse, because that’s inauthentic for me. But in general, people need light and humor. So I started looking for humor and I tried to generate it.

      Then my brother Aaron sent us a Christmas gift. It had been three years. (Three years! Still trying to laugh! Incredible.) And he sent us a DVD of Brian Regan dong stand up. (If you don’t know this comedian, you should get to know him fast.) I thought, Okay, Aaron. I know therapy when I see it, and was almost afraid to put the thing in and watch it. But we did. And we watched. And we found ourselves LAUGHING. HARD. And I felt the release in my children, and witnessed that the experience didn’t distance us from Parker but helped us feel his closeness.

      Zappo: revelation! That healthy laughter and good humor could help us all feel close to each other, close to him, close to the healthiest versions of who we are.

      So today I make it a point to laugh, laugh hard, often, and not to play the itinerant comedian, but to find humor with others.

      (well…not in the most recent posts. I know that. But I have many dimensions, of course:-)

      So, Drury, how was that for a-lot-of-hot-air-billowing answer to your simple question? But I thought it deserved a lot of attention. . .warmth to you–Melissa

  15. I actually blog too and I’m authoring a thing very close to this specific posting, “The Grief Beast | Melissa Writes of Passage”.
    Do you really care in the event Iutilise a bit of of your concepts?
    Regards -Kristie

    • Hi Kristie,

      Nice to have you come by here. I’m glad you find my ideas worth repeating in your own blog. That’s always encouraging. Others have asked me a similar question, and I always say that what you can do if you want to incorporate my ideas and/or writing into your own blog, is to send people directly to my blog via a hyperlink. That is safest for everyone. If you are going to paraphrase me, then you need to simply credit me, (“As writer Melissa Dalton-Bradford has expressed in her blog. . .”) just as you would a book. All blog material is, as you know, covered by an implicit copyright. Some people include © copyrights on their blogs as a matter of course just to be sure. I haven’t done this yet, but because I’ve gotten a number of requests to use my ideas in other media, I’m going to go back and add copyrights everywhere, including my photos.

      To avoid plagiarism, just give me the credit for ideas or language that originate with moi. It’s also customary to tell the other writer (moi) when you’re specifically quoting them or borrowing their ideas. And of course, if any of us uses anyone’s words/ideas/intellectual property for pay, it’s illegal without first receiving express permission from the author.

      So. . . sort answer? Please feel free to hyperlink others to my posts, quote me or paraphrase me but always while giving Melissa credit.

      Thanks so much for the courtesy of asking me, Kristie. I truly appreciate it! I’ll come visit your blog sometime very soon—M.

  16. It’s wrong of me to argue with you on this, when you have drunk of grief and I have only tasted it. But I see something different than the grief beast. I see Angels.

    I’m always been drawn to grief, which perhaps makes me strange. But I’ve always been drawn to people who are grieving a loved one or a marriage or an child with an addiction. Why? I think it is because they are living the very essence of life, and they have angels around them.

    Don’t misunderstand me, I know the ugly side of grief. I have yelled and sworn and broken things, I have lost the spirit.

    But you, my friend, are surrounded by angels and when I see you I feel heaven.

    • Surrounded by angels without question. You are right. I have lived that, as has our entire family. It’s not something I can write about in a blog and hesitate to write about in a book and even rarely speak of, even in private settings with the most trusted confidantes. You are absolutely right, though, Michelle, that in the instant the Beast materializes –no, before it materializes, in anticipation of its materialization – there’s an army of truth and light encircling the war zone, preparing the soul for a long battle.

      I’ve experienced this and know that it’s true not just for me but for all humankind. In spite of the moan,”My God, my God. . .?”, our grief is known, accounted for and provided with divine Help, and all this long before it ever even becomes our grief.

      This is why my anthology is entitled Grief and Grace. Not only because grace sweeps in afterward to mop up the Beast’s dripping debris, but because Grace precedes and accompanies and holds in its bosom every demonic inch of the Beast.

      Thank you, my dear Michelle, for wisdom and light—M.

  17. Pingback: The Loss Of A Loved Pet Is Devastating- RIP Beast-I Love You | Save Animals Today

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