Positive Masculinity Contributor - Mac Scotty McGregor
Founder of Positive Masculinity, Author, Former US Karate Team Champion, Martial Arts Hall of Fame Inductee, Speaker, Author, Coach
Time and movement feel different. I am not sure if there is an understandable way to convey how it feels, but I can try. Have you ever gone swimming in a lake with grass and mud that you must wade through to get to the part where you can freely swim? Have you ever driven through a dense fog, so thick that you have limited visibility and feel like there are no buildings, cars, or paths in front of you? These are the best ways I can think of to explain the way my daily existence feels right now.
Stop lights still change; red, yellow, and green. People go on about work, mundane chores, errands, and life, but I and others going through deep grief feel like we are in that mud and dense fog. I see, in amazement, those going about their day like everything is normal. How can they do that? I have no idea; for right now, it seems that I must focus on putting one foot in front of the other and remembering to eat and drink water—simple things normally, but not while in a state of profound grief. In this state the things that we regularly do without a thought become challenging.
When we experience the death of people in our inner circle, it changes our daily life experiences drastically. No day is the same as they once were. Plans have been significantly adjusted or lost. There is so much change, even with one death of a loved one. Within months of one another, I have now lost three. It isn't easy to feel as if there is any stable ground beneath my feet. I am trying to get used to the lay of a new land while in a thick haze. There are moments when the fog seems lighter, then something will trigger a memory; I will pick up the phone to text one of them or call, and then I realize again that I cannot. Then you sit with the longing to be able to talk to them again.
Western culture thinks that we should be fine a month after we lose someone close to us. A month might even be liberal; maybe it's more like two weeks and then we should be back in the swing of life as if nothing happened. It makes most people uneasy to talk about it, and some friends avoid you altogether when grieving because they are so uncomfortable with the feelings and sadness. Even though death and loss are a normal part of the cycle of life, our culture seems to do nothing to prepare us, teach us, or even talk about it. Therefore, most of us have little or no healthy modeling around how to grieve in any conscious way or support those going through it. Most walk around it, giving it a considerable girth as if we are walking around a pile of poop our pup left on the floor. Our culture's way of dealing with grief does not recognize the process nor give people time and support to work through the fog.
It would be nice if someone prepared us for these things and helped us with the tools to get through them. It also stands out when people you thought would be supportive disappear during this time. I try to remind myself of The Four Agreements; it's not about me. In my intelligent, conscious mind, I know that they avoid due to their inability to handle the emotions and discomfort of grief. It still hurts, and yet people you would have never expected to step up, check in, or bring food, can be present with you and your grief.
You learn a lot about people during this emotional roller coaster ride. If you have not yet experienced this, you likely will. I read that someone said you only grieve hard when you love big. I think that is true. The bigger you love, the more you will experience deep grief. When we look at it in that way, I know I am blessed to have such deep connections, love, and friendship in my life. Even though the pain is harsh, and the fog is so damn thick, I will continue to love big. I feel cracked wide open, raw like my heart has no ribs protecting it right now. Yet, through those cracks are where love can enter.
Coming from the very dysfunctional family I grew up in, I made a conscious choice years ago. That decision was to become better, not bitter. I vowed to be vulnerable enough to remain open even when it hurts, rather than becoming fixed and cold. At age sixteen, I was reading things like A Course in Miracles and books by Lea Buscaglia and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. I was searching for meaning and how people overcame hard times and hardships. One of the things that stuck out to me was that everyone at some point in life faces death and difficulty, but those who seem to weather it best have some common threads. They are willing to share, stay open, and be vulnerable. They also have a sound support system.
We need to talk about grief and loss. We need to prepare our kids with tools to help them navigate these things that we all, at some point, face. We need to grow up around this and face it. Yes, I realize that is not easy; I am walking this path and it hurts, yet it is better than ignoring it. We need healthy examples around navigating the grief journey. We especially need healthy masculine modeling around being open and vulnerable about our grief instead of destructive. We need to teach about this and no longer expect people to get over it. We need to learn how to support friends, co-workers, and loved ones when they grieve.
Tips to support someone who is grieving (from my experience)
Check in on them with no expectations.
Offer to bring food, walk the dog, mow the lawn, pick up groceries. (Take some mundane tasks off their plate, that at a time like this can be overwhelming)
Listen. Sometimes, just sitting with them and being a good listener without judgment is the most valuable thing one can do.
Give them time – there is no right or wrong amount of time to grieve. Everyone does this in their own time, and many things factor into that.
Don't push them to be somewhere or do something – allow them the space to choose without judgment or hurt feelings. (It's not about YOU)
Be gentle and ask the best way you could offer support at this time. (They may not know yet, keep checking in)
Keep checking in! After a month, remember that many others have forgotten, and the inner circle folks are still in the fog.
Be willing to sit in your discomfort (Not many will, but if you do, you will grow from it and be a better support to your friends and loved ones).
I will be sharing about this experience and keeping an open heart, which may at times make some of my friends, neighbors, and colleagues uncomfortable. I understand that, and that is not my purpose. I will also be listening internally and taking time when I need time. I intend to keep loving and put one foot in front of the other, get through the thick fog, and come out of it healthily. I hope that my friends and loved ones can be gentle and patient as I walk through this journey and one day find a clearing where I can see the path before me again.