how to grieve–an unguide

We putter and fiddle. Straighten furniture multiple times. Undo and re-do, re-do and undo. Talk too much. Laugh too loudly. Cry silently. Make unreasonable demands. Hurt each other. Offer banal platitudes. Accept the healing of banal platitudes. Seek faith. Run into voids. Grief hits us all in multiple ways.

We swing from one mood to another, one craving to another, one mode of acting to another.

There are no maps out of grief.

We who grieve change our minds frequently. Or we get stuck and cannot move on. Feeling accumulates and refuses to disperse. Occasionally, it explodes. We do not know when feeling bad ends. If it will end. We do not know if or whether thinking can remove us from feeling. We’re not sure if we want it to.

And we act. Frantically, desperately, convinced that we are right, that what we are doing must be done. The dishes must be washed at least three times. The house must be swept seven times a day. The funeral programs must be printed in Comic Sans.

And we who “think for a living” get frustrated that our thinking will not remove us from grief, will not make us more focused. We get stuck in trying to map how others should grieve. We draw odd maps. We feel useless.

We putter and fiddle.

Pick up this book and that article. Turn to this thinker and that one. This history and that one. This theory and that one. There is no tunneling under grief—no quick escape, no secret doorway through the wardrobe into another world.

And, yes, many of our reactions are predictable. Predictability offers some comfort: wake up, drink tea, go to the toilet, blame someone else, recycle words you’ve used a thousand times, drink tea, write a stern statement, have lunch, repeat statements, drink more tea.

Putter. Fiddle. Act.

And we judge. I judge. You’re not mourning correctly. You’re not thinking correctly about grieving. How dare you? Why don’t you? You must! You must not!

Grief multiplies fractures. It changes petty disagreements into lifelong enmity. It destroys fragile coalitions. Even as it forges new ones.

We know these things about grief—but still it disorganizes us. What we know rarely helps in those moments of disorganization.

Anne Cheng taught me that we rarely know how to stay with grief. Especially when we grieve for strangers. Perhaps grieving for intimates is easier, especially for those who have grieving rituals that help to shape grief.

How do we grieve for strangers? And how do we hold on to them as strangers as we grieve? Why might it be important to grieve for those we do not and cannot know?

I don’t know that grieving can be taught. I find the idea of “stages of grief” schematic, and often wrong. I keep coming back to disorganization, to all the frantic ways we try to manage disorganization.

I think we need to be tender with each other—to acknowledge the hurt we will cause each other as we grieve, the wounds that will be inflicted, the unhearing that will happen.

There will also be kindness, compassion, comfort.

Puttering. Fiddling. Acting. Map-Making. Grieving.

7 thoughts on “how to grieve–an unguide

    1. I think I was trying to find a way to engage with how grief disorganizes, because I kept judging how others were grieving, and I had to recognize that they were as disorganized as I am. I’m not sure how to frame this disorganization–perhaps recognizing it is one step?

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