As I move through the journey of my own grief, I have observed that a culture shift has occurred in what is expected of mourners.
In years gone by, mourning was something of a rite of passage and definitely a formal outward acknowledgment of the loss of a loved one. In Victorian times, black crepe hung around front doors of grieving families. Gentlemen sported black armbands. Ladies wore all black for at least a year. That period was known as deep mourning. Broaches were crafted with likenesses of the dearly departed and perhaps a lock of hair. Mourning rings were common, such as “Rings of Remembrance”.
These visible markers of grieving served as a symbol or reminder that the bearer of such mourning markers should be treated with a little more kindness, a little more patience, a little more understanding.
Seldom do neighbors come bearing casseroles. The bereaved are expected to rejoin the world, back to themselves as though nothing ever happened, in no time flat. Widows and widowers are often interrogated by many about “when are you going to take off your rings?”; “Start dating?”; “get over it – move on?” They act as if they, the interrogators, have the absolute right to an opinion or a personal stake in the decisions. When I corralled 25 widowed folk to write The Widow or Widower Next Door, available on both Amazon.com and my website, widsnextdoor.com, all of my storytellers were infuriated and frustrated about the judgements, generally emanating from those who never walked the widowed path.
The interrogators also feel that their opinion is gospel and want to tell us what we should do, feel, be. Some even go as far as to speculate that the dearly departed “wouldn’t want us to grieve” “would want us to move on”; implying that they knew the departed better than those who were married to them or know how they would feel. Nearly all grievers are hit with that, as is chronicled in my following books, The Grief Diaries series.
It bothered each of us so much that we wrote a splendid book just for the “civilians” or those who don’t know loss and are foundering about what to say or do. Grief Diaries; How to Help the Newly Bereaved, also available on widsnextdoor.com or Amazon.
It seems we are expected to stop grieving before we ever really get started. Or are we? Have we mastered the art of “drive through grief” or has it just morphed into other displays?
Take a drive around your community with your eyes open and you’ll see what I mean. You won’t go far before you notice a plethora of roadside memorials dedicated “on location” to traffic accident fatalities. Look again and you’ll see memorial decals proclaiming the loss of a loved one on the back windshields of cars and trucks.
Walk among crowds in the summer and memorial tattoos and maybe even a small vial of cremains on a neck chain will catch your eye. Patchwork quilts made from old shirts and tees or Daddy’s ties are common. Memorial buildings, hospital wings, libraries and 5K runs, even ships are all named to commemorate someone now gone.
So have we really stopped grieving so long or have we just changed the form our expression of grief takes? The human spirit, it appears, is irrepressible. Grief that needs a way to be grieved will find a way out.
My question is why would anyone want to make a griever feel bad or guilty for grieving a certain way? Any way that brings them comfort and solace?
I have an idea! How about you grieve your way and I’ll grieve mine.
Mary Lee Robinson is an author and speaker, collaborating on grief books and speaking about grief. Mary Lee obtained her certification as a grief coach from the American Association of Christian Counselors not long after her husband died suddenly.
The loss of her beloved husband, Pat left her bent but unbroken. She “aspires to be the widow he would be proud of…still.”
At present, she lives in the Low Country of the Carolinas, and has participated in the writing of The Widow or Widower Next Door, Grief Diaries: Loss of a Spouse, Grief Diaries: Loss of a Parent, and Grief Diaries: How to Help the Newly Bereaved.
Mary Lee Robinson is owner of Rings of Remembrance an affiliate of Expressions of Grief by Diane Sapp. Her mourning rings can be purchased on The Grief Toolbox in her online store. She can be reached at Facebook, firstname.lastname@example.org or as seen on The Grief Toolbox.