Grieving well is punk rock.
What I learned about sadness from an African ritualist
I’m excited to talk about grief. I know it’s weird and contradictory but stay with me.
Whether we don’t want to burden anyone or we can’t find the words or the appropriate time or safe enough place, or we think they just won’t get it — so many of us go through our pain really privately, in the bedroom with the door closed or in the car with windows up. So the idea of having an open conversation about it is really intriguing to me. It’s subversive. Punk rock even.
There’s a lot of grief to go around; that was true even before the pandemic. As I’ve started to brave this conversation with people, I’ve learned that there are many, many kinds of grief. We generally use that word to mean bereavement (and it certainly is that) but it’s really an umbrella term for a lot of the shadowy things we tend to avoid talking about, let alone feeling.
Shame, for instance, is a kind of grief — it’s the loss of feeling worthy and lovable. Disappointment is sadness about not having had something we deeply wanted. Outrage is a form of grief because it’s an intense feeling of injustice and simultaneous powerlessness, and we don’t often have a space to explore or express that friction (other than social media, which you may have noticed is not always super productive).
Anticipatory grief is knowing that you will be sad, that a major loss is coming eventually, but not being in it enough yet to get through it.
Ancestral grief shows up in our family patterns and dynamics: all the trauma, homesickness, addiction, victimization, and tragedy that wasn’t fully dealt with over the generations, and now it’s here at the kitchen table. It didn’t start with you but it’s part of your experience. You may have seen this called epigenetic inheritance, or as Stephen Levine puts it, “hanging the skeleton in another’s closet.”
Disenfranchised grief is grief we don’t feel entitled to, or are afraid won’t be acceptable. It’s very real sadness that doesn’t have a place to land. There’s also ambiguous grief, which is not knowing if you should be grieving or not. For instance, will you ever meet the love of your life, or will your career ever take off? Should you let go or should…