Grief is a natural feeling. But processing grief, the way we move through and beyond it it, is both cultural and very, very, individual. It can and indeed must be learned, both in families and in community. For many humans, “community” is a word for religion or faith.
Two things happened this week that reminded me of this.
One, I read a story about Prince Harry who, at a charity event, suddenly acknowledged that he has never “talked about” his mother Diana’s death. At thirty years old, this seems shocking, I suppose, to some. Not to me! My own mother died tragically (in her sleep, with no known cause) when I was five, and we never discussed it again.
Upon reflection, as an adult, it became more and more clear to me that there were so many ways in which the stoic refusal to allow space for grief and all that accompanies it has crippled me emotionally. Even at sixty, it’s hard for me sometimes to feel the full extent of sadness when something ends. I stay with bargaining, or anger, way, way too long.
I’m lucky though. I’ve had so many teachers, both living spiritual guides, mentors, peers, and writers, poets, musicians and preachers, who have led me into the depths of my own losses and then helped me see that while I may never “overcome” them… I could come to terms with them. Learning to “come to terms” with life, which is loaded with losses, big and small, became the core of my pastoral ministry. I think it enabled me to help others in the way I’ve been helped.
Dreams are beautiful teachers. They provide a gentle and palatable way for us to “let go.” Sometimes, I don’t even like those words: let go. They sound so final. I don’t think grief is that way. Our losses reside within us, like headstones in a cemetery we visit from time to time. Many things can take us there: a song, a certain food, a voice, a silhouette on the street. We may find we return joyfully with bouquets, or are dragged through some mire and mist to face again some wrenching loss.
Until I began to learn this, I was living a half-life. Maybe that is what Harry feels has been the source of some of his behaviors and antics. Time will tell. For me, the inability to grieve is what primarily leads to addiction.
This is one of the great paradoxes of life.
Of course, I’m not revealing any secret that hasn’t been told before, by all the teachers and masters of Time. But it remains: if you are unable to be completely and utterly bereft, lost and sad, and to come to terms with all that is lost as we live and age, we are also unable to experience joy, delight, and true ecstasy.
Two, the “Bernie or Bust” folks. As the DNC continues, they will not come to terms with what is already done, even though Bernie himself has beseeched them to do so, has promised them the movement will continue, and has asked them to at the very least refrain from their loud “boos” at every mention of Clinton’s name.
I voted for Sanders. I think it’s true that the DNC worked against him. How many and how dastardly the things they did to “undermine” him remain to be seen.
But here’s the point. Life is incredibly unfair. Had Sanders won, all but a few of his initiatives would have been stalled or stopped dead. A time of grief and loss was bound to come for these people. Still, what has started is the beginning of an entirely new way of doing politics!
We are seeing naked grief played out on a national stage. We’re seeing people who seem to have no ability to process and come to terms with grief, expressing anger, rage crying, yelling, rather than using the convention to work toward the change they say they want.
I need to say this: Grief in America is not handled well. White, Protestant America has almost no ritual or mechanism for moving people from the depths of grief to the peace of living with loss.
There are exceptions. In the Black community, and particularly the Black church, there are ways to process grief. From the steady trail of visitors at the home to the turnout at the Funeral and viewing, and the celebration/”homegoing” after, there are tears, physical contact, expressions of adoration, opportunities for truth-telling, story-telling, reassurance from Pastor/Priest, rituals, and much laughter.
So.. joy. Joy, and gratitude. The two go hand in hand. When I heard Michele Obama say the words that have been repeated again and again since Monday night about all of her and her family’s detractors, When they go low, we go high, I heard two meanings. Not only have the Obamas unfailingly gone “high” in their demeanor and their public presentation, but its pretty clear they go high in terms of faith as well. I know plenty of folks blame President Obama for civilian deaths caused by drone attacks, and question his ethics, but I see him as a person of faith, placed in a nearly-impossible situation. History will be the judge of his decisions, finally.
Last night, when the Mothers of the Movement spoke at the DNC, the radio commentators noted that they opened with gratitude, praise for God, and words of hope and even elation. Sandra Bland’s mother spoke first. She celebrated the fact that she could be there, to testify about her daughter. None of this surprised me. I frequently attend a mostly-Black AME Zion church. Joy, laughter, praise and ecstacy mingle with tears, grief and deep mourning.
I don’t want to stereotype people of color either. But it would be hard to live in this country and argue that the dominant (white, Eurocentric) culture has the capacity to both grieve and yet hold hope, a capacity that allows for wholeness and for fullness of life.
It should not go without notice that Bernie or Bust people are overwhelmingly white. (They are also largely millennials, which I have other thoughts about, but not today.)
When Bernie Sanders told his followers, this is the world we live in... he didn't mean give up. But if any of them had done the work of white privilege, the deep work of listening, study, and contemplation, they would understand that the loss and grief and disappointment they face is faced by Black (and Brown, and Native, and Asian) Americans daily, who learn to come to terms with it, and keep hope, find faith somewhere, and stay on the journey.
White privilege is all that comes to mind when I hear them petulantly say they’ll vote for Trump.
“VOTE FOR TRUMP?”
After what he’s said about Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, Black Lives matter, “my” African American, women, after what his VP nominee has said/done toward GLBTQ folks and about choice? Then your privilege and your petulance is unacceptable. It’s time we had a national conversation:
Maybe we should invite Prince Harry to the DNC.