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Widowhood

Grief Shaming: The Latest Form of Bereavement Judgment

Blame it on the ability to remain anonymous, on people who have very small lives or a combination thereof.

In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in varying sorts of public “shaming”  – weight shaming (be it “over” or “under”); height shaming, financial shaming, social status shaming, a certain kind of shaming that questions sexual conduct (real or imagined and generally reserved exclusively for women) – or shaming just for the sheer and pathetic sport of it.  The Internet in general and social media in particular are popular avenues on which to indulge in such shaming – and one need only visit the “Comments” section of a large majority of websites or social media hubs to confirm this observation. If any further proof beyond comment sections was necessary, I recently ran across an online article entitled, “20 Celebrities Who Have Ugly Spouses”.

Point illustrated.

It therefore saddens me to have to add one more form of shaming to the rapidly-growing list of shaming activity:

Grief shaming.

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Many find a great deal of comfort in visiting the gravesites or memorial sites of their departed loved ones – and that is a wonderful thing. Some visit to experience quiet reflection and to feel connected to their beloved, while others invite friends for picnics, remembrances or “mini-celebrations”. There is no doubt that visiting the gravesite of a loved one can bring a large measure of peace and consolation to those coping with the pain of loss.

I am not among those people.

When it comes to my own Healing Journey, I find my comfort in the happy memories of my late husband Mike when he was energetically healthy and vital. I picture him completely free of ALS, the illness that ravaged his body and stole him from this life. I envision him on the back of a horse wearing his standard “uniform” consisting of a crisply triple-starched Western shirt, perfectly creased jeans, and a Stetson hat. I envision Mike and my daddy, who passed away within four months of one another, regaling each other with boring stories over cold beer and barbeque as they so often loved to do. My comfort comes from the glimmers of Mike that I see in our daughter an adolescent when her daddy passed away and now a young adult, whose language and expressions are ever-so-slightly tinged with his inflections (especially when she’s angry, which is actually pretty funny). In my heart, in my mind and in my “peaceful place”, Mike does not lie in a grave and it is for that reason that I do not visit. His gravesite is simply not a place of tranquility for me.

All of that said, would I ever deign to influence another person to find their comfort in the exact same ways as I – or worse, criticize another for seeking comfort in the ways that they see fit?

Never.

I realize that my particular confession may elicit raised eyebrows. However, as I do in kind, I also strongly encourage anyone experiencing bereavement of any sort to seek their comfort and peace in their own specific ways and by their own design.

What is disturbing are those people who feel either the need or the entitlement to dictate exactly how others should be expressing their grief and seeking comfort…and if those expressions of grief do not fall precisely in line with these generally-unsolicited opinions, it is somehow indicative of the love (or alleged lack thereof) that a survivor feels for their beloved.

Let the shaming commence.

For example, can you imagine the pain and the guilt that one widow felt when she was asked, “Why don’t you ever visit his grave? Didn’t you love him?”  Or the utter confusion of a widower who visits his late wife’s grave once a week and was eventually confronted with, “Why are you spending all of your time at the cemetery?” How baffled one widow must have been when she was chastised by friends for simply going to a movie two months after her husband’s death. And just imagine the overwhelming guilt that another widow felt when, after she shared that she had experienced her first date post-loss, she was asked, “How does it feel to dance on your husband’s grave?”

(Incidentally, I was the widow on the receiving end of that last remark).

All of these scenarios – and too many more to list – are perfect illustrations of grief shaming…and the unfortunate result of grief shaming is that the bereaved willingly absorb both the negativity and the shame, winding up feeling even more grief, guilt, doubt, fear and uncertainty than that with which they are already coping.

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Grief shaming – the questions, opinions and admonishments that are set upon the bereaved either publicly or otherwise – is nothing more than code for, “You are not grieving in the exact manner as I am (or believe that I might); therefore, you are grieving ‘incorrectly’ and ‘inappropriately’ and you should be ashamed of yourself”.  In other words, because your grief perspective is unique to you, the actions that you are taking – whatever they may be – are judged to be “wrong” or “inappropriate” or some other ill-advised adjective. Once questioned (or accused) as to the manner in which the grieving pursue their comfort, too many once again find themselves in those places of pain, guilt, doubt, fear and/or writing letters that begin with the phrase, “Is it OK if I do/don’t …” or “Is it appropriate to not to…” . These letters subsequently continue with the part of the Healing Journey that is being questioned, opined upon or outright judged.

Although I have repeated the same words countless times to what are now many thousands of people, I again gently remind that your Healing Journey is yours alone. As long as you are not coping with your grief in a destructive manner **, however you choose to grieve, seek support, find solace, pursue your life post-loss and ultimately heal…is your choice. No other person on this planet can tell you how to feel, how to grieve and most importantly, how you should or should not be pursuing whatever it is that brings you comfort, peace, and happiness.

You know, every year at the holidays, I make a special cinnamon bread (because if I don’t, my family will stage an ugly protest). I have been making this bread for over twenty-five years; however, when it comes time to start baking, I still have to refer to a well-worn and much-loved cookbook to review the recipe.

As with the holiday bread recipe, you must take out your own Healing Journey “recipe”, review it carefully…and then follow the recipe! Those indulging in the exercise of grief shaming are not living your life. They are not the ones left behind to slowly and surely find a way back into a life post-loss. You must seek your comfort in your way and in your time, regardless of the opinions of anyone around you, which you must remember are coming from people who are not you.

Find your peace wherever and however you wish and revel in the warmth of your treasured memories…and not with those who choose to be anything less than supportive of you and your goals of ultimate healing.

In other words…no Grief Shaming allowed. Period.

**Defined as coping through the abuse of alcohol, drugs that are not specifically prescribed and closely supervised by a physician; self-harm (mutilation or “cutting”); compulsive shopping, gambling or sexual behavior, etc.  If you need help, please immediately consult your doctor, mental health expert, cleric or other trusted professional.