Monday, 15 August 2011

Holding each other in grief

When in community we are relating to people who we know but perhaps don't know that well.  We may know several people well but it is difficult to know everyone.  We had a discussion at the end of July about our social welfare work as individuals and as a community.  We were looking outside of our own community.  I commented that we also needed to look within - we needed to ask, 'What do we do for each other?'

Perhaps the first thing we have to ensure is that we are a community where people can be honest about how they are feeling and where the giving and receiving of help and support are part of our way of being.  This can take many forms - from a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a reassuring hug, or something more active around problems solving.  For example a lift in a car, changing times of meetings to accommodate people, helping out with children and dependent relatives, visiting in times of need, providing food and giving a bit of advice where other help may be available.  

Within our communities we should be offering active friendship - I purposefully use the term friendship because I think that it is about equal relationships, where we each give and receive.  We do not want to be setting up informal systems or even see informal system evolving where there are a group of people who always give and a group of people who always receive.  Those who give have to get their mind around the fact that they too may need help and learn how to ask for it and receive it gracefully and gratefully - from personal experience I can attest how difficult this can be.  In my case it was an internal dialogue about the meaning of strength - but this is part of another discussion.

My main concern in this posting is about grief.  Grief comes about after loss, often a bereavement but not necessarily.  We all respond differently to grief and what was thought to be a process following clear stages is now seen as highly idiosyncratic to the person and to the circumstances, both about the loss and about what else is going on in life at the time.  Some people are remarkably resilient and manage well and some do not manage at all: most I suspect sit somewhere in between.  My own reaction to the loss of two fathers in one year and two good friends was of a closing down, an inability to think effectively and a real struggle just to get on with life.  This was very marked for at least six months.

In my opinion our bodies are wise, often despite our best intentions.  They create the right conditions to heal.  Closing down is a way to protect ourselves from further hurt, to save energy for actual healing and a time to readjust to our new life - life without that person (or job or house or child living with us - whatever the loss is).  There may be reminders around us which trigger an emotional response - for me when I see a silver Mercedes I think of my Dad and fill up.  Without knowing this you might be a little surprised at my reaction to a car! 

Within our communities there may be lots of people in various states of grief.  One friend told me it took her seven years to get over the death of her mother.  To support people in healing we have to be present - be with people, talk about the hurt and the pain, recognise their real and deeply felt experience of loss and not expect an immediate return to normal service. We as communities have to create a safe, secure and comfortable place for people to lick their wounds and regain their strength and purpose.  But we also have to be joyous and fun and engaged with the world - a reminder that life goes on.

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