Thursday 26 January 2012

Holding Patterns

I saw an interesting link to a blog this week that is really worth reading. It's called The Silence of the Dying and it's an honest look at how the modern world hides from the topic of death and dying. It's true, people really do not like talking about death. It's as if they fear it might be contagious just through talking.

Last month I tried to find ecards for two friends who were grieving and it was eye-opening. there's pretty much nothing useful out there. You can find cute ecards, singing ecards, silly ecards and even rude ecards, but the only ecards I found for consoling someone on a death were for pets. I know how deep the bond with a furry family member can be, but what does it say about society when you can find ecards to grieve the loss of an animal, but none to help anyone grieving the loss of a human?

All the ecards I found were geared to be "uplifting" in one way or another. They were full of words to cheer you up rather than allowing you to grieve, because that's what everyone does. When faced with someone in tears and pain... we all try to cheer them up. There's nothing wrong with wanting to make things better, but sometimes the only way for someone to feel better is to first let those intense emotions free. You can't "cheer up" by shoving all the bad things into a box and ignoring them. It doesn't work; the box will fill up and explode one day. It happens every time.

We need to find ways to open the boxes. We need to learn that grieving is natural, anger is therapeutic, and fear can be a way of learning to fly.

This is all the more vital when it comes to dealing with those who suffer chronic or terminal illness. Then you're looking at a whole room full of people with boxes: the person who is ill and all their loved ones, and they all need safe places to let go. They need something so simple that you'd think we'd all get it right, but we don't. WE dash in with "cheer you ups" or we run in panic because we don't know what to say and we fear making things worse. So we either do too much or we do nothing at all.

What is the simple thing we over look? It's here in this story...
Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife.

Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman's yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, 'Nothing, I just helped him cry.'

That's all it takes - just being there... sitting quietly, really listening.

So simple, isn't it?

And you can 'listen' by email as well as in person or by phone. I know because I've experienced both. On the night I miscarried I was in a chat room with friends when the contractions started. I was waiting for the doctor to phone me back and I panicked a bit. I told what was happening and four women scattered across the world sat with me and were just "there" until the doctor called back. They helped more than I can ever explain in words, just as my husband helped me grieve when it was all over.

That was the strangest night... I was in a ridiculous amount of pain because I'd also managed to put my back out! I was just PAIN inside and out. I'd had two large whisky shots on top of pain killers (it seemed a good idea at the time) and they had made me drunk for the first time in my life. I'd never been drunk before. I was drunk and everything made me giggle. Everything was so funny until somewhere hysterical giggling became crying and I lay down on the bedroom floor and HOWLED. I went beyond words like "crying", not even "sobbing" fits ... I HOWLED and my husband held me until I was done. He held me safe.

Planes go into a 'holding pattern' - they fly in a safe wait-and-do-nothing circle until it is time to land. Maybe we need to start teaching holding patterns for people. We need to learn how to go into a 'holding space' - to wait-and-do-nothing so that there is a safe empty space for those who need it to grieve, grumble, rant or weep. It's only when you empty out those boxes full of heavy emotions that you can fly free.


  1. This post made my eyes wet for a number of different reasons. (((HUGS)))

    R2 did what the little boy and your hubby did when I grieved over infertility and my Dad's death. He was just there and he helped me cry.

    The difference between IF and my Dad's death is that I feel that there are a number of "projected selves" coming from other people about the fact that I couldn't be there for his funeral. Some people probably thought it was the worst thing possible, but I had my most perfect closure even though I couldn't be there for his funeral and that helped A LOT.

    But what others have said to me made me wonder if I had grieved enough for my Dad's death. I am sad, but I'm not devastated. I had my closure and I'm at peace.

    Infertility, though, is a different matter.

    When Tragedy Strikes

  2. Michelle this post is so well written. Very moving and very true. You have said here what I have so often felt but never thought to try and express.

  3. Holding patterns. I've experienced that. It's just a space you're in that must be experienced before you can move on and breathe. I remember walking through it when I lost my babies, my Papa, and my Dad.
    It DOES feel like "holding"'s self-imposed healing.

    People should honor that and not try to rush back into life too soon. Your soul has to recuperate too.

  4. Amel

    Thank you for adding the link to your story. ((hug))

    About your dad and not being at his funeral - I think there are no "rules" to grieving. Maybe we cry in different ways and at different times. one thing I do know - it isn't up to other people to tell you what's the right way to react or the right thing to do.

    Thank you. x

    Yes, spot on - souls need time to recuperate. The modern world expects everything fast - fast food, fast healing. It gets a bit much. Love and hugs for your losses too. x

  5. I really like your idea of holding space. There are so many times in life where that is necessary. Thanks for sharing your story, Michelle.

  6. thanks for taking the time to reply, Cate. <3



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