In the last few years, several of my friends and I experienced significant losses. The anguish involved in loss is rarely welcomed, and often seen as the price one pays for having loved greatly. I, however, tend to look upon grief as a gift. Think of the alternative. Without great love, there would be no grief. And who among us wants to live our days without the experience of great love?
For this reason, my recent journey with grief about the diagnosis given to my friend, Debra Winegarten … my shock, denial, guilt, bargaining, and anger make sense. And, upon reflection, I see grief in a wider context. I think Deb would applaud.
THE WIDER GIFT AND A CHALLENGE
I think our country has been in a grief process for some time … we seem to be failing in our attempts to live into “the American dream” … to create “a more perfect union.” And, I believe, that as a nation, because we are losing what we have loved about our country, we are grieving this loss.
After the 2016 election, the whole country seemed to be in shock. I proceeded through all the stages from shock to anger with all the steps in between. I witnessed that phenomenon among my friends, as well.
Once my initial shock wore off, guilt emerged for my insulation that ignored the disturbing signs that previously surfaced from time to time … the comfort that gave me license to ignore those signs and go my merry way.
For the first time in my life, I started calling my representatives about my concerns (bargaining) and attending rallies for women’s and healthcare issues. When my concerns were ignored, anger arose.
As the stage of reflection emerged, I attempted to understand our great red/blue divide. I learned that after the 2008 election, many others were in shock … and their concerns were ignored. Anger festered.
I remained mostly oblivious in my bubble until it burst wide open with the results of the 2016 election. Now I am shocked and outraged at the meanness and vitriol accompanying anger expressed on all sides. We seem to be stuck in a very destructive form of anger.
What are we becoming? How do we heal this great divide?
In a recent conversation with a friend, she told me about a speech she heard by Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds. He referred to our greatest challenge as citizens … managing our anger.
As a former relationship therapist and trainer, I taught anger management in one form or another from 1985-2012. I am well aware that under anger are other more vulnerable feelings we would rather not have. Anger gives us a sense of strength and we get caught in it to protect ourselves … almost as though we were donning a shield.
Even though I know all this, last week, quite by surprise, a healthcare provider’s question triggered my anger. As I reflected on it later, I realized I was caught in our national grief process.
SHOCK: I can’t believe she is asking that question. My body tensed and my mind froze in protection mode. I put on my shield … not so much to protect myself but to protect a dear friend who I believed was about to be condemned.
BARGAINING: Why does such a condemnatory question even have to be asked in this day and age? I explained my point of view. She asked another pointed question.
ANGER: I was no longer in control of how I responded. My reptile brain took over. I threw in a couple of zingers.
GUILT: This feels yukky. While I didn’t spout vitriol, my zingers were self-righteous, mean spirited, and judgmental. I know better and I didn’t do better.
REFLECTION: How could I have done this differently … in a way that is alignment with my relational values and would move this conversation forward.
I could have been honest about my discomfort with her question and how it affected me personally. The whole conversation could have been different if I had done that. That would have given me an opportunity to assess whether or not she is a dialogical, relational person who would engage me. We could have learned some important things about each other and perhaps developed empathy for each other. I believe an interaction like that between people with differing views is a gift to our nation.
If my healthcare provider proved to be more interested in the rightness of her point of view than in our relationship, I have, with the help of a friend, developed an answer that speaks my truth … a truth I imagine she would agree with in principal.
Both approaches would avoid the slippery slope of meanness and vitriol that only divides us further and, perhaps, beyond repair.
Because my friend, Debra Winegarten, lives at a distance, I have not been able to have anything more than Facebook contact with her. I have watched her seem to come to effortless acceptance of what has befallen her. I’ve witnessed her determination to live life as fully as possible given her situation. What an inspiration.
Last week, I had an opportunity to talk with a mutual friend who lives close to Deb and visits her regularly. She told me that Deb has a glow about her. During visits, when she awakens from her slumber and sees Jeanne sitting with her, she says, “I’m alive and here with you. Isn’t it wonderful.”
I have witnessed in her Facebook posts how Deb connects personally with the doctors, nurses, technicians, and aides who attend to her. She asks about their lives, shares concerns about inequities the aides face, and encourages her readers to take action to change this injustice. She shares from her life to benefit these healing professionals. Jeanne told me more about how she works to make a difference in the world that touches her. She lets them know what she observes about how they could improve their care for patients.
A devout Jew, Devorah is faithful to tikkun olam, the collective task of healing and restoring the innate wholeness of the world…the world around her that touches her. And in her faithfulness, she generates the love and respect of thousands. She is a model for us all.
Under my anger as we lose Deb little by little is a sadness I allow myself to feel.
- I miss her energy in and contributions to our writing circle. Thankfully, I’ve saved so many past ones.
- We won’t have the opportunity to sing, dance, hug, and catch up with each other as we had hoped to do at the conference.
- I may never read the story that gave her potential agent chills … the world may never have access to her story.
As I have come to acceptance of my powerlessness over her cancer journey, gratitude has emerged. Gratitude for
- witnessing her dream of becoming a successful author/publisher come to fruition. Her spirit will live on in her writing and in the books she chose to publish.
- providing an example to so many of us for how to live life fully under any circumstance … for using her book selling and her hospitalization as an opportunity to offer a gift to some hurting or unaware person before her. That will never die.
- the generosity and love she extended to me and many others. That will never die.
- all the ways she has enriched my life and that of many others. That will never die.
- the way she inspires many, including me, to live our lives. That will never die.
- her example that caused me to reflect on my conversation with my healthcare provider and find a better way.
And increased gratitude for all my friends who bless my life so richly … and increased awareness of the shortness of our lives. I renew my intention to show them how much they mean to me while we are still on this side of heaven.
The only anger I’ve seen Deb express in her Facebook posts relates to her concerns for our country. Her grief about the state of our union and her actions to heal and restore the world’s innate wholeness will live on in those of us doing our part in our corner of the world. Deb’s spirit was in my heart as I prepared my poster for the Anti-Hate Rally last Sunday afternoon.
If you are so inclined, it would mean a lot to me if you would take the time to comment on the way you connected with this post.