Friday, October 30, 2015

Private and public

Grief is a private thing. The deepest, hardest parts are often the most isolating. The nights when I couldn't sleep, when I was incoherent with loss, were the times I shared with no one. I didn't want to. It belonged to me and it belonged to Kevin. It was private.

Grief is also a public thing. In my case I have chosen to make it part of my art. I write about grief, I tell stories about it. Part of my public identity is as someone who has grieved deeply and powerfully, allowing others to witness the process. An emerging part of my public identity is as someone figuring out how to return to life, even as the loss remains a part of who I am.

More than my personal choices around grief, it's public because it has such a significant impact on so many facets of our lives. It's hard to work, hard to interact, even the smallest thing may be a trigger. We all have public components to our grief, even if we may not want to share the experience. We must emerge from our carefully constructed cocoons (where it is safe to feel and express and make ourselves numb, where it is safe to do whatever we need to make it through) int the harsh world that doesn't know the world has ended. Grief can be so consuming that we can forget there are actually people in the world who don't know of our loss.  What's more, people in our communities may know of our loss and might not know how to interact with this new, wounded us. This is all part of being alive and much of this living happens in the public sphere; we must find ways to navigate it.

All of this came to mind because of Joe Biden's announcement that he will not run for the Democratic Presidential nomination, due to the time he needed to grieve the death of his son. Most of his grieving has been private, but this is a very public impact. Regardless of what you may think of Biden's politics, his thoughtfulness and integrity here are undeniable. He knew that a campaign and potential presidency would require his full engagement and when we are grieving deeply it is very difficult to pay attention to anything but the wound.

Those who have experienced a great loss need time and understanding from those around them. We need to know that we can maintain our privacy, share what we choose and that there will be understanding of the blurred boundaries between public and private; you can't always stop yourself from breaking down in a public place, at least I can't. The mourner is still one person, just with changed needs and abilities.

Everyone will grieve at some point in their lives. We all experience loss. And we all get to choose how we express it, what we share, and what we undertake while learning to live in the after.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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