My mother described grief as if it were ocean waves. They hit you hard, sometimes knocking you down. Just when you think you will drown, it will roll out. The pressure releases and air fills your lungs that moments ago were crushed. You get back up, and sometimes you walk out of the shallows. But, sometimes they hit you all over again, and you are left waiting for the crushing weight to release.
I think of grief as a tricky, sneaky and unwanted houseguest. Just when you think he has left and you begin to clean up the muddy tracks he has left on your floor, there he is with another layer of wet dirt ready to cover everything he touches. He shrugs his shoulders in a half apology, and then waddles over to your favorite couch, tossing a soaked coat with a hem smudged in mud on top of you as he goes.
No matter how you describe it, grief is difficult to handle.
In his book The Wisdom of Psychopaths, research psychologist Dr. Kevin Dutton explains that sadness is one of the five basic emotions that are experienced universally across all cultures. (The others include fear, anger, happiness and disgust.) So, it is an emotion everyone is familiar with.
However in my opinion, grief goes much deeper than sadness. While sadness is an emotion, grief morphs into grieving, a personal and unique action one takes on to cope with sadness.
We grieve losses, whether it is LSU losing a bowl game or moving from a beloved home, the end of a relationship or the end of a life.
This week I have found myself relentlessly pounded by grief. That mud spotted coat has been suffocating me with waves of rank mildew wafting from the lining. Not once, but twice I was knocked down by the sad news that a friend lost his life. The first was a college colleague with a bright future and gentle soul. The second was a former coworker who was a caricature of passion for his job and art of photography.
I know that what I feel cannot even begin to measure to what the families of these two men are going through.
Unfortunately, this is not my first meeting with grief, nor will it be my last. Death and sadness are as natural to life as birth and happiness.
The truly hard part is discovering how to deal with grief. You can cry, get angry, vent or even turn to alcohol or drugs.
Baton Rouge substance abuse counselor Reba Casebolt told me that often, substance abuse begins with grief or depression. This is a dangerous path, and what she calls a defective coping mechanism. Alcohol and drugs provide a temporary and false relief, but as the body builds up resistance, it takes more and more of a substance to reach that relief. Then, Casebolt says a person will find themselves in an abusive cycle that is hard to overcome. In addition to dependency and addiction, substance abuse leads to serious health problems, even death.
(I'll have more on that subject next week in a story called "Risky Behavior.")
Healthy grieving, according to the Mayo Clinic, takes time. One article suggests active grieving or expressing what you feel in action. This can be done by writing it down, attending a memorial or even just wearing black to outwardly show your mourning. It also suggests taking care of you. Exercise (that produces mood-boosting endorphins) eat well, and get plenty of sleep. Nearly every article on grief will tell you to talk to someone, whether it is a professional therapist or a friend. Also, give yourself time to grieve.
When it comes to talking to children about grief, the Mayo Clinic suggests keeping to the basics of what happened. Don't dwell on unnecessary details or speculation. Most importantly, listen to your child's concerns and questions. If needed, seek help from a professional counselor.
Grief is different for every person. Some may move on quickly, while others may need much longer to cope and adjust.
Personally, I have found that writing helps me deal with grief. Boxing too. Both help me to vent my sadness and the frustrations- anger, guilt, disbelief- that go along with it.
Grief and his muddy coat may be sleeping on my couch for a few nights more. But, with the help of friends, prayer and a mean right hook, I will eventually get him out. Then I will clean up his mess, and move on. Because, to me, the best way to overcome sadness and grief is to move on and let your future actions honor that which you have lost.
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