"The more you hide your feelings, the more they show. The more you deny your feelings, the more they grow." ~Unknown
A friend of mine recently talked to me about her daughter who left for college. My friend is sad. Of course she is.
Another friend talked to me about the job that she lost. She’s feeling depressed. Of course she is.
Yet another friend talked about a failed relationship and how he had rebuked her. She’s angry. Of course she is.
We live in a culture in which grieving is not encouraged or honored. People have to die in order for us to be given permission to grieve and then we’re allowed only three days of bereavement leave. But death isn’t the only time that we grieve a loss. Like my friends, there are so many transitions in life that cause us grief, true grief. Many times we’re not even aware that we are grieving. All we understand is that we’re sad or angry.
As a culture, we are not taught what grief is, what to expect from grief, how to grieve and how to support those who are grieving. My friend whose daughter went to college? Everyone at her workplace knew about this transition, but did anyone check is with my friend, whose child left the nest? No. Not one person asked how she was doing. My friend who lost her job? People just keep asking her about the job hunt and about her next steps. When people we know are sad, they make us uncomfortable, don’t they?
My friend who is angry at her lost lover? People can get on board with her anger and justify her vindictiveness, but when we do that we’re only adding fuel to the fire. We're not probing and asking what’s underneath the anger.
Grief is a conglomeration of emotions that absolutely need to be expressed. If not expressed in an honest, open way, grief finds subversive ways to express itself. Think yelling, addiction, depression. Grief gets under our skin and lives with us until we find healthy ways to express it.
Denying our grief doesn’t make it go away. I tried to avoid the grief I felt about the loss of my leg for nearly 15 years. I spent a lot of energy stuffing my anger, depression and grief. I was terrified that, if given half a chance, they would eat me alive.
It didn’t work. My grief, just under the surface of my heart, came out in inappropriate ways. Depression, anger, yelling, feelings of inadequacy all plagued me for years. Yep, the more I tried to hide those feelings, the more they grew.
Until I went to a counselor. My therapist taught me appropriate ways to express my sadness, anger and resentment. She loaned me a piece of the Wailing Wall a friend had brought her from Jerusalem. I carried it in a pouch around my next for months as I allowed myself to grieve. Every time I felt sad or angry, I rubbed that piece of rock and felt less alone. I imagined myself standing shoulder to shoulder with the others who go to the Wailing Wall to release their sadness.
My emotions didn’t eat me alive as I had feared. Actually, I became alive when I started to truly feel them.
Ultimately, allowing ourselves to grieve -- or supporting someone who is -- without judgment, without expectation, without advice, is the most compassionate thing we can do for ourselves or another human.
Are there feelings inside you that, no matter how hard you try to suppress them, keep growing? Can you find your own Wailing Wall and allow yourself to feel them? Don’t judge the feelings. Don’t resist. Just allow. And see how alive you feel.