Thursday, May 27, 2021

No right words

Silence is not golden, at least, not when it comes to anything to do with mental health. People need to talk about whatever they’re going through in order to move through it and to heal. However, over time it becomes less likely that someone will be willing to talk about what they’re dealing with, and that includes profound grief. Sometimes it’s a deliberate decision to avoid talking about it, but very often it’s not. Either way, it’s something that we need to fix.

I’ve seen many people dealing with profound grief who say that they stop talking about their grief journey because they sense that the people they talk to don’t want to hear about it, or else they’re visibly uncomfortable. In such cases, the grieving person will, essentially, adopt what they see as the socially expected behavior: Silence.

This happens for a number of reasons, I think. First, there’s an expectation among some people that when it comes to grief, even deep, profound grief, it’s “six and done”. That is, a grieving person is “allowed” to grieve for six months, but then they need to “move on”, a notion that’s flat out bullshit.

This is a topic worthy of its own discussion, but the fact is, no one ever “moves on” from grief—they move forward. That isn’t mere semantics, it’s about deep meaning. I said in a post back in July of last year:
To me, moving on implies forgetting or repressing whatever came before, and there’s simply no way I’d be willing to do that. In time, I’ll learn to adapt to my new reality and my solo life, but I won’t abandon the life I had, nor could I: It would mean leaving Me behind.
The other half of the societal expectations is that there’s a time limit to grief, and that’s every bit as absurd as the notion that people “move on” from grief. A grief journey takes as long as it takes, and not a moment less. No one has the right to dictate to someone how long that journey will take, nor to try to essentially order them to stop grieving. That may be a harsh truth to hear, but it’s nevertheless true: No one is in a position to judge someone else’s grief. Ever.

The thing is, though, that attempting to live up to assumed societal expectations is only one reason why a grieving person may stop talking about their grief. Another reason grieving people can become quiet is expressed in the meme up top (which is why I’m including it despite the terrible punctuation—and unknown original source). Other people’s grief is always hard to understand—the damage to our heart and our being leaves no visible gaping wound, after all. Someone who’s never experienced profound grief can’t be expected to comprehend what it’s like, much less how awful it can be—and they should be deeply grateful that’s the case.

In my opinion, one of the main reasons grieving people turn quiet is this: They can’t find the right words to explain their grief journey to people who don’t understand grief, and who can’t comprehend the pain of deep grief. It becomes too difficult, and too tiring, on top of the exhaustion caused by the grief itself. It’s easier to say nothing than to try and help non-grieving people understand.

One of the reasons I talk about all this on this blog, on my podcast, on Facebook, etc., is that if I talk about it enough, and if I repeatedly return to some topics, and also put these concepts into different frames, sooner or later otherwise non-understanding people will begin to see the picture. That’s my hope, anyway. Whether I ever succeed or not isn’t for me to say.

What all this means is that sometimes a grieving person may turn quiet because they think that’s what’s expected of them, and other times it’s simply because they can’t find the right words. Either way, turning silent is far easier, far less exhausting, than continuing on.

I’m personally aware of all that, too, of course—I may talk about this a lot, but the truth is, I’m still just a person dealing with deep grief, and sometimes that means I choose to not say things, too. However, I have an entirely different reason for refraining, and I think it’s the third major reason grieving people may turn quiet: Sometimes I just need space.

I’m the only one who can figure this all out. Others may have good advice or ideas, but the fact is, only a grieving person can make sense of what’s happened to them and what it means for the future. Because of that reality, sometimes we just need to be left alone to think, to ponder, to contemplate, to remember, and probably to cry. It’s just part of the process of working through the new reality.

When I turn quiet, that’s what I’m doing. If I was in some sort of crisis or whatever, I’d turn to others, but that’s never been what’s happened to me: I just need space. Sometimes this means experiencing a lot of pain and sadness—it goes with the territory in a grief journey. No one can “fix” that for me or “save” me, and it’s not anyone’s responsibility to try (nor is there any expectation that they should). Think of it this way: You’re reading complicated instructions and someone keeps talking to you, it’s impossible to grasp or understand what you’re reading. The steps toward completing the task those instructions describe become gibberish when someone else is filling the air with their own words.

Sometimes, then, silence actually IS golden—when it’s our choice, made not because we feel shamed into it, and not when we’re too tired to explain it any further, but because we just need a time out. Overall, and in general, talking about what we’re going through and what we’re dealing with is important. But that, too, must be our choice.

If the people in our lives want to help us to move through our challenges and to heal, then they must encourage us to speak, to help us find the right words, and also to be willing to back off when we need space. It’s really as simple as that—and every bit as difficult to manage.

Silence isn’t golden—except when it is. Finding the right words on either side of the situation is important, and it all begins with a simple command: Breathe. Then, relax. A good heart and good intentions can do a lot to bridge that silence.


Roger Owen Green said...

Oh, I LOVE to talk about issues surrounding death and dying. Seriously. That's why I have gone to about six Death Cafe sessions. I was the moderator of a couple of breakout groups.

So I have talked with total strangers about one of my BILs NOT going to his father's funeral last weekend, or how Bill Cosby (who you can't mention anymore) informed my philosophy about death and dying...

I haven't actually done so, but I feel as though what you've expressed here, and in the past couple of years, are tremendous and worth sharing.

Arthur Schenck said...

Obviously I have no trouble talking about death and dying, either. In fact, I'm often dumbfounded when I encounter someone who can't talk about it. I admit that I just can't understand where they're coming from, probably similar to the way some of them can't understand where I'm coming from. Even so, I still try to be an example to them, that it's okay to talk about it, and also that it's okay to not really understand the topic. In my opinion, silence helps no one.