Thursday, July 31, 2008

huh - coping

One of my friends IRL sent me the following link to a Washington Post story.

One Way to Handle Grief: Just Get Over It


I don't know how long that link will work, but go check it out. Very interesting story about an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Christopher Davis. I googled him, but couldn't find anything in primary literature, so it's the Post story for now.

He studies how people respond to tragedy - in this case, the death of a loved one. His team spent years studying a group of family members after a mine explosion in Nova Scotia took 26 lives. After extensive interviews with their families, he divided the grievers into three groups.

We're familiar with two of the groups - the first are the mullers. They process the experience, look for meaning in the loss, and ultimately come to find a positive lesson from their loss. This group is also referred to as "successful grievers" - the ones the psychologists seem to enjoy working with the most - analyze the experience until you come to accept it for the meaning it brings you. The second are the chronic grievers, the ones who still ask why this happened, and have no answer for it. The loss experience shattered their belief in justice.

And the third group was a surprise, one not previously identified by others who study grief - the copers. They didn't ask why, and they didn't find meaning from the loss. They sort of said shit happens, and that's just the way it is, and yeah, it sucks but you move on.

This has really spoken to me in a number of ways. First, my counselor and I spent a lot of time (and money!) talking about how it's not ok to express emotion in my family of origin. It never really felt right to me. My family has emotion. My family doesn't dwell on emotion. Life happens, and you go on. They are copers. I am a coper, under relatively normal circumstances. This past year - 18 months - was an extraordinarily abnormal circumstance. Reading this article, at this point, this far removed, resonated.

In the (deadbabyland) blog world, there's periodic discussion of how the loss has changed you. And discussion - from me, too - about being a pessimist or optimist, and how everything has killed that optimism. I think now, for me, that's the wrong framework. It's more about how I cope with the loss (and subsequent loss of faith in my husband and marriage) than if my essential nature has been changed.

In a lot of ways, I've experienced all three strategies. I think, 18 months later, I've coped with the pregnancy loss, for the most part. I'm definitely not a successful griever. There's still bitterness and regret and a whole heap of other things there I don't want to deal with, cause I don't see the point. There's no greater lesson, there just is. I'm not one of the butterfly people - you know, the ones who get the butterfly tattoo because the soul of their dead child visited them in the form of an unusual butterfly in the garden one day (or repeatedly showed up just when they needed said soul to do so). Not to denigrate those people, but I am Not One Of Them. That strategy doesn't work for me. I went through a chronic griever phase - it sucked, and there was no meaning and no butterfly and no happiness and soulfulness and light. But now I've mostly moved to coping.

The loss of trust and faith in my marriage has been harder. It's still ongoing. I'm still very much in chronic grieving phase. But I know, intellectually, if we are to successfully keep this marriage going, chronic grieving isn't helping. My public face is very much of having coped and moved on. Our joint counselor, and my husband, tried the line that we needed to go through this experience to emerge stronger on the other side - the muller strategy. Which I reject with every fiber of my being. No, you don't have to treat your grieving wife like a psychological punching bag to revitalize your marriage. You don't, and I refuse to believe you do.

I think a lot about grief as I click through my blogroll and the other blogs not yet on my blogroll. And the IRL blogroll, untouched by any grief at all. I think a lot about Niobe, actually, who says repeatedly her grief is not like others, that it comes up short against the tide of grief on her blogroll. Every time she types that, I want to write a comment that says, to me your grief seems no more or no less than anyone else's. Different around the edges, in the particulars, yes, but essentially the same early dark days, followed by your own way of coping. I never leave that comment, it's too personal/complicated/something, and yet here I am with a whole paragraph about another woman's grief. And yet another woman's grief, too - Antigone is going through an impossibly rough time right now, and she write eloquently of getting through, of doing what needs to be done.

I think a lot about people experiencing the worse life has to offer. Of horrendous childhood survival rates, and how our ancestors (and many people in the world today) survive unfathomable grief of losing half their children before their 1st birthday. Or losing their entire families to horrible, tragic, senseless murders or genocides, whether it be the Holocaust, or Rwanda, or the latest multiple murder that makes the news. Or disease - cancer, HIV, depression. Is our way of coping, continuing, different today than it was 50 years ago? Is there a larger lesson to be learned, or is it just the way life works?

What do you think? Do you find a deeper meaning, or no meaning at all, from loss?

15 comments:

Holli said...

If I did not find a deeper meaning, I could not function.

Astarte said...

I don't know about finding a deeper meaning. I try to be patient and wait for something good to come from something bad, like losing a job = finding something better, or being in the hospital = a real doctor actually finding out what's been wrong with me and fixing it. When my nephew Ryan was killed sledding last year, though, at 16, I found nothing deeper or good about it, and still don't. My SIL, his mom, is now pregnant with another set of twins (Ryan has a twin sister, Cori, who just graduated hs last month), and I'm trying to be happy about that, since they would never have been conceived had Ryan lived, but that makes me feel like I'm trading him for them, and I would always take him, hands down, over anyone other than my own children. Maybe I have to wait longer to find something good.

CLC said...

I would like to try to find meaning. I would like to accept it. But I have come up with nothing so far. It's just life. People are born and people die, and some people get the short straw of dying before they are born. I don't like it, but it just is. And despite my many whining posts about how much I miss my daughter, I do realize that people are suffering in this world far worse than I. It's just life. I am willing to admit some positive things that have happened along the way, but I don't believe my daughter was meant to die just so I could be, for example, more compassionate, etc. I already had a decent sense of that to begin with, it's just greater now. So I don't know where that puts me. I already forget the categories. Short term memory=gone

Tash said...

I saw this article, and was prepared to be super pissed, but I think they mis-titled it. (In fact, their celebrity de jour, admitted to thinking of her husband every day so I hardly think that's "getting over it.") I also initially thought "woah, I'm in that group two there," but I do see some smidgens of three in my thoughts as well. Definitely none of the first. As much as I'd like to find some higher meaning or deep significance, I don't think there's any to be found.

niobe said...

Ooooh...I love the article because I feel like it's kind of a validation -- that there are other people who approach loss in a way I can relate to.

I wonder if, in general, men are more likely to be copers and women to be in the first or second group. I've often thought that my way of grieving would seem pretty unremarkable if I were a guy.

(And I really appreciate your thoughts about me. They warm my little black heart. Or they would, if it weren't frozen solid.)

Reuben said...

Honestly, I feel there is a little of each of the 3 groups in each of us. Maybe we fluctuate a little here and there, too.

As for meaning, it's not usually easy to find. We need to be able to see the entire big picture to see such things, but we are only here, right here right now, with vague recollections of the past and no idea what is going to happen tomorrow.

One thing is for sure - we grow with every life experience, and especially grief experiences.

k@lakly said...

I'm a coper, mixed in I am sure with a little of the mullers but not the chronic grievers. I get that bad shit happens and when it happened to me I knew better? than to ask why. I was pissed as hell that it happened but that was different than being mad that it had happened to me and not someone else.
And I have never believed for a moment that any one's baby dies for some superior reason or life lesson. 'Logic', belief or whatever you want to call it, that professes ridicule like that only deepens my anger and makes me want to break out a gigantic can of whoop ass. Babies die because nature is imperfect, that's it.
You can spend your whole life trying to untangle it or you can spend your whole life living. That's where I am. Just trying to live my life with all that I have, not focused on all that I don't have.
We carry on...
xxoo

Lisse said...

I don't think there is meaning in death. At best, it might make us appreciate what we do have, but not always.

I think about my mom who buried a 6mo old daughter and a husband within 16 years. She has talked a bit about losing my sister, but not much about my Dad. She's always said her hair went grey overnight with the shock when the baby died. I guess you could say that I was her response to that grief.

I wonder sometimes if so many men react inappropriately to grief because deep down they believe that anger is the only acceptable emotion for a male. It seems that so many detach or lash out because they don't want to feel anything else let alone deal with the grief of their partner.

How do we raise our sons better than that?

Wabi said...

I guess I'm also a coper in many ways. But I admit that I do find some bits of bigger meaning. Not in the my-baby-was-a-gift-designed-to-teach-me-THIS sort of way. (I find that idea creepily narcissistic.) But in the sense that grieving is a central process for any living human> We are designed to form attachments and we are built to die. Grief is therefore as elemental as sex, joy, or rage.

Before my various life losses I didn't see that grief might be part of the overall design. We have a society that sends people away to die in quiet, contained fashion in hospitals, that thinks photos of dead bodies are freaky, that tries to deny any permanent mark mortality makes on the not-yet dead. And so at first I thought grief was a pile of garbage that stunk up a formerly great life. And when you feel that way, of course you're going to focus on how alone and rotten you are.

But as time passed, I began to feel like grief tapped me into a universal, important aspect of being human in a way that my former world view did not. And the more time passes, the more all sorts of various losses seem more the same than different to me.

And that's difficult in many ways ... but very comforting. I'm a fence sitter in the God dept., yet that sense of us all being in it together buoys me, and leaves me feeling like somehow, it is all ok in the end. Not easy or pain-free or fabulous, maybe ... but at least ok. Because we are all together in it.

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