Joan Didion


Example of the idyllic impression of a snowed-...

Image via Wikipedia

It snowed. I am sanguine to near total zen about it. Rob reminded me that last year’s final snow dump occurred on May 4th, which I don’t recall, but I do remember the walloping we took in early April after the ground was all but clear. Spring ditch rivers run close to the road and given the decided lack of shoulder on the rural roads, slipping off is not a preferred option.

No progress beyond cabinet installation as far as the reno goes. The man took measurements for the counter top, but it won’t be ready for another week at least, so there goes my dreams of Easter in semi-complete house. If we are even close to complete by May Long, I will be surprised. I am beyond ready to be done and Rob is so far past that point that he idly toyed with the idea of checking out a house that is for sale in Ardrossan – nearer to a rail track than the house we live in now. The trains run only early morning and late night in J’berg but Ardrossan is a main track with long rumbling parades of cars rolling through continually. If you ever watched my husband’s slow burn reaction to a train – anywhere it impedes his progress or makes noise – you would recognize that his level of reno fatigue is off the charts.

Mick has been full of news of late. We took her mother’s piano into the city for her last weekend and discovered, not to my surprise at all, that she was dating. And yesterday she let Rob know that she will finally be able to escape the kitchen work that has been steadily threatening to leave her fingerless. Through the machinations of one of her dubious friends, she is now employed as the IT girl for a company in the city. We are worlds of pleased for her because the digit injuries were concerning and it’s always nice when one’s child finds gainful employment that has meaning.

And I have an opportunity to submit a small piece to a dating book that will be published soon. The author writes a weekly advice column for the wives and girlfriends of widowers. I have written about it  before,  but he planned to take the blog stuff and turn it into a self-published e-book.  However, he is under contract to a publisher and they claimed dibs.  He was  surprised.  I wasn’t.  Self-help sells and niche dating stuff, especially written by a man for women, sells bigger.

Rob was puzzled, “Who would read a book about dating widowers?”

If I wasn’t so versed in the dating advice/self-help genre, I would wonder that myself, but I also know my fellow females and we, sadly, are prone to trying to coax pig’s ears into silk status. Therefore, we will read anything that we think might help us save loser relationships.

Harsh? By the time one gets to the point where an advice book is one’s only hope, one should have walked away long ago.

The truth is that men are not so complicated where dating and marriage are concerned, and they are like women in that they will change only when they see clear benefit that doing so is advantageous for them. You can’t change anyone or analyze a bad relationship into a good one.

But, Abel’s advice is common sense. He doesn’t pull punches or blow sunshine up bums.

His publisher wanted more stories about some specific post widow dating stuff, but I couldn’t find Rob and I in any of them. We just really didn’t have issues that harkened back to dead spouses in a grief-related way. Unsurprisingly, given current grief cultures Ayn Randian emphasis on “I am grieving so my needs always come first” advice that widowed folk are spoon fed by the various books and online self-help aimed at them, dating a widowed person has probably never been more confusing for those who haven’t been widowed themselves. They like to compare a widowed past to a divorced one but it’s too apples to oranges for analogies to match up really, but I am in total agreement with the non-widowed’s view that “your dead wife does not get top billing in our relationship and your grief issues are not a trump card to play whenever you want to get your way”. I also am behind the idea that children and in-laws should be kept out of relationships just as they were previously*.

Abel though thought I could just offer an overview of how Rob and I “made it work”. In 500 words or less. You laughed? So did I. Brevity is not my middle name

I don’t know that Rob and I “made” anything work. Relationships are work of a kind, and anyone who doesn’t think so is a fool, but you can’t make love be if both people aren’t on the same page and willing to throw absolutely everything on the table and make it all about the other person. I doubt that most people who are already having issues would be willing to follow the road map that worked for Rob and I, and indeed was quite similar to the one Will and I traversed.

And that’s about it. Employment continues to vex me. I am marginally invested in the blogging gig but covering current events wearies me and I fear for my karma. I listen to others talking about new jobs or watch as they pursue business ventures and am a bit jealous. Every vacant storefront begs me to speculate. A neighbor recently opened her own saloon across the street from the yoga studio. Edie and Silver are making plans to start an industrial plastic recycling venture. Jade, at the studio, is talking expansion. I have no ideas. She suggested volunteering at the schools and getting back into the classroom, but it’s not an idea that sparks anything inside me.

I think a lot about asking the domain owner if I can try reviving Moms Speak Up. Or even starting a site of my own so I can blog events rather than go the journalist approach which chafes and isn’t my best or favored writing style. I just don’t know.

But it’s time to get to Yin class. Yin is good for snowy Fridays when one has a cold (again) and is standing at the crossroads wishing it was really spring.

*But I realize that some people have always allowed children top billing and put up with meddling in-laws and often death simply magnifies this bad training. People should run away from those who allow any of this, imo.


Inconsolable grief

Image via Wikipedia

Just finished journalist Ruth Davis Konigsberg’s new book, The Truth About Grief: The Myth of the Five Stages and The New Science of Loss. At not quite 300 pages, and through mounds of boiled down research and stats, she reaches the completely unsurprising conclusion that the grief industry is at best mildly interfering for their own purposes and at worst scamming people.

Davis Konigsberg is one of those rare “grief” book authors who didn’t come to the genre from a place of self-interest. There are no tragic personal losses in her past driving her need to write the book. In fact, her only impetus seems to be a genuine interest in wanting to put the facts of what grief is and isn’t in front of a public that has been fed a steady diet of anecdotal misinformation since Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages were misapplied to grief.

One fact, and it was hardly a shock given who I know, struck me about why the whole notion of the five stages and grief work has always rankled me so much – it’s not based on any actual research.

None.

Kübler-Ross wrote up case studies of terminally ill people and proposed a theory about what the dying experience based on her observations. She published it. It was neat and concise and hit the public at one of those lightning strike times. It was then quickly appropriated by the fledgling grief counseling industry, which needed something on which to base its idea that family members needed support after the death of a loved one.

It wasn’t until George Bonnano began his actual research that anyone had bothered to look into whether or not grieving had stages at all or if people were helped by grief counseling.

As it turns out – there aren’t – only about 10 to 15% of people experience long-term difficulty after the death of a loved one that might require professional help. And by “professional” it is meant those with actual degrees in psychology. Not people who once lost someone*. That’s like supposing that having been sick makes one qualified to practice medicine.

Perhaps shockingly to some, but not to me, a lot of those in the grief counseling profession don’t have any real training. But it doesn’t stop them from pushing their services or the misguided notion that grief is work and without putting in the time, a person is doomed.

The idea of grief as work is a one off of Freud’s. But he saw the work of the grieving as being detachment from the deceased so that one could form a new attachment with someone else. He apparently felt, and there is some validity to it, that the cure for a broken heart was new love whether it be a new partner or another baby. It wasn’t about replacing the person, but giving the feelings a new outlet.

But grief as a chore was the bane of my widowed existence and it made no sense for me as my late husband had been physically separate from me for 15 months and mentally/emotionally lost to me since his diagnosis due to the dementia. His death freed me and all I got from the grief people was that now I was finally ready to get down to the work of feeling truly wretched.

Grieve now or get bitch slapped by the Grief Monster later.

That was one of  many rather unhelpful pieces of advice thrown at the newly widowed on the YWBB.

Fascinating to me was that the author actually attended the infamous Ft. Lauderdale MLK Weekend Widowbago that is now in its fifth or sixth year. She interviewed a gentlemen, who I remember well from my days on the board. An even-tempered – mostly – ex-military chap, who also organizes a camping trip for the widowed parents and their kids every June in Tennessee. Well meaning, as “veteran” of the board, he offered the same “do your griefwork”, “grieving is a process”, and “you’ll never really be over it” advice that dominates the grief counseling industry from church basements to hospice groups.

At one point Rob and I enrolled Dee in a children’s group via the Edmonton hospice program. While she was playing games and struggling with a program that was geared toward remembering a dad she was too young to recall, Rob and I were stuck with a volunteer grief counselor who goose-stepped us through the five stages.

Rob’s disgust vibrated through the room.  I, foolishly, tried to point out fallacies but was ill-received.

The only time I ever found “group grief” remotely real and accessible were the few times the counselor couldn’t attend and the parents were left to “talk amongst themselves”. As one of the longer widowed folk, I was asked a lot about what was normal and if they would ever “be okay”. And I did my best to reassure them that life got better and being okay was the norm.

I did this online too though I earned myself quite a reputation as a heretic and I am sure there are still faceless widowed out there waiting for the day that “grief will get me”.

Truth?

85 to 90% of all those who suffer the loss of a loved one will be fine within 6 months to a year after the loss with absolutely no outside help required. No one really knows why, but spontaneous relief from active grieving is how it works for the majority. Perhaps people are not the delicate hothouse flora the grief industry would prefer we think we are.

Yep, and that’s a proven fact with research to back it up though it is the pet peeve of nearly every widowed person I know.

“We’re not all better at the year anniversary!”

Except most of us are.

I remember the YWBB gent speculating that the members of the board fell into a small percentage of those without much real world support or those with “problems” that they undoubtedly had prior to their loss and which the loss made worse. The new science supports this theory of his but won’t be welcome news to those who need it most.

What’s more. There is no evidence to support the idea that grief counseling will help people return to normal faster than those people who have no guidance at all.

In fact, Bonnano found that people who are encouraged to replay the tragedy and their negative feelings are more likely to wind up with prolonged grieving than those who focused on the positive, good memories of the deceased and kept themselves involved in their lives.

And here’s something else that made perfect sense. In the Asian communities, grief is not discussed. They feel it is inappropriate to burden others with negative feelings, and it is in a way, disrespectful to the deceased. Stiff upper lip and moving on is emphasized though there are quiet rituals to remember the lost loved one that are practiced. And guess what, they do better in the long run than those who are encouraged to “lean into the pain”.

God, I hated that expression. Lean into the pain is the backbone of grief work and it probably couldn’t be less helpful.

The best thing one can do for the newly widowed? In my opinion, of course.

Tell him or her that he/she will be okay. To take things one day at a time. To find distractions if necessary. Focus on immediate tasks. Get enough sleep. Exercise.  Eat. Be around people.  Laugh. Smile a little. And stay away from anyone who encourages you to feel like a victim, which means avoid offers of grief groups, books and counseling as if they were plague.

The Truth About Grief is not really a “grief book”. It will rile up anyone who thinks they are doing good, setting up organizations, websites or planning conferences for the grieving because it will challenge them to think about what really motivates them, and why they are doing something that hasn’t been proven to work and can even harm those susceptible to complicated grief issues. It isn’t a “how to get over your dead (fill in the blank)” book, which so many grief books are.

It’s also not self-serving “year of magical thinking” tripe. Grief memoirs are plentiful and some are really good, compelling stories. But they aren’t blue-prints and should be taken as one person’s experience and not applied to what is true for most people in the same situation.

Davis Konigsberg’s work is a well-presented set of facts based on research and if you are a Kübler-Ross worshipper**, will give you something to chew on.

* p.122 the author asks sociologist Vanderlyn Pine to comment on the influx of grievers turned grief professionals – something he warned the industry about back in 1977. When asked how their experiences can influence the kind of help they provide he said, “The problem is that when people enter the field with a broken heart because someone close to them has died, they feel they have paid their penance and therefore already know all that there is to know.”

And unlike professional psychotherapists, these amateurs are not required to undergo counseling themselves so that they are aware of their prejudices. And yes, I am fully aware that I have a bias where amateur grief do-gooders and not so gooders are involved. It’s also why I stepped away quite a bit from blogs and sites devoted to this feel good industry. I can only speak from my own experience. I have no training aside from the little bit I received when I was teaching – where we were subjected to quite a bit of professional development of the counseling nature.

**My favorite Kübler-Ross quote from a 1981 interview on applying her stages to grief, “Any natural, normal human being will go from shock all the way through to acceptance. You could say the same about divorce, losing your job, a maid, a parakeet.”

That totally needs to be on a t-shirt.