“If it’s true that we generally don’t know how to grieve personal losses with others in community, then we have no context for grieving communal losses–those that are omnipresent.”
Photo by Click @MorgueFile
Grief is usually associated with a loss due to death. There are other losses we grieve: loss of a marriage, relationship or friendship, a job, our health, a miscarriage, and loss of function due to aging. These are all extremely personal losses.
Omnipresent grief relates to larger, communal issues such as:
– The environment and climate change
– The war in Ukraine and genocide
– Missed life events due to Covid (friends, family, weddings, funerals, trips, graduation, play dates, school, etc.)
– Financial insecurity and poverty
– Politics tearing apart our nation
– Gun violence
– Racial, sexual, and gender discrimination
Grief remains a taboo topic in our culture. When someone dies many people don’t know what to say or do after the funeral and service. The default is not to talk about the person who died. Not talking about the person can erase their existence to the loved ones left behind. We have celebrations of life that are organized to minimize shows of grief (and it’s done unconsciously due to the taboo). Some types of self-talk we may say to ourselves or phrases we may hear from others are: “Just get over it,” or “Pull yourself together,” or “It’s been long enough.” These do not help a person come to terms with the death of a loved one. Check out my Language of Grieving brochure for what to say and not say to someone who is grieving.
Here’s a poem about not grieving:
AMERICAN FUNERAL by Greg Kimura
“He sits in a raft in a river with no water
that winds through sandstone canyons and green valleys
before passing through the gates of heaven.
The old raft, a sunken coat of flesh that
once ripped up huge chunks of Stanford Stadium
turf at left tackle, class of 1949,
that once built tuna fish sandwiches
for church youth groups,
that made sloppy wet love to an appreciative wife,
now lays boxed in the ground,
but he sits alone in the raft waiting.
Waters that could’ve carried him
down the river
lie locked inside
Protestant bodies maintaining
an unfortunate sense of dignity, decorum,
Oceans of roiling grief
sit in the pews
but we have forgotten how to do this.
In the old days,
we knew how to prepare and anoint the old raft
for its journey.
Knew how to create the ritual
that released the sacred storms
that sent him on his way.
And as much as he needed our tears
we needed to weep.
But today our grief lies entombed in our bodies
and we carry them out into the world
where they come out later in ways
not so elegant
or beautiful or as necessary
and he sits in a raft in a river with no water.”
If it’s true that we generally don’t know how to grieve personal losses with others in community, then we have no context for grieving communal losses–those that are omnipresent.
My son told me a snippet about ubiquitous privilege that I believe holds true for omnipresent grief: Two young male fish are swimming together when an elder fish swims along and says, “Hey boys, how’s the water today?” And they respond with, “What’s water?”
We may not even be aware of omnipresent grief since we’re swimming in it every day. And honestly, most of us don’t want to acknowledge omnipresent grief because it’s upsetting and we don’t know what to do about it.
A revised first step of 12-step programs seems to fit here: We admit we are powerless over omnipresent grief. Whether or not we’re consciously aware of it, omnipresent grief takes a toll on us and adds a layer of ongoing stress to our lives. That means more cortisol in our physical system, which can lead to disease and/or mental health issues.
So what can we do (being doers)? Become aware of omnipresent grief. Feel it, even though it may be painful or uncomfortable. Talk about it, even though it may be painful and uncomfortable for those with whom you bring it up. Take action to help others when, where, and how you are able to in your life. Look for opportunities to add to the good of all.
Here’s another thing we can do: Tonglen is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice that is known as “giving and taking or sending and receiving.” On the inhale, you take in the pain and suffering of yourself and others and on the exhale, you give space, compassion and healing to yourself and others. Be sure you breathe out all of it!
Also, pay attention and have gratitude for the many wonderful people and situations in your life. Tell people you love them.
Please share your thoughts, feelings, and ideas on ways to deal and help with omnipresent grief.