Sunday, January 23, 2011
Last May, my boyfriend (who is now my husband) moved in with me. My grandmother's pillow sat at the head of my bed, spanning the entire width. As I said before, the pillow itself was not particularly comfortable; I remedied this by putting another pillow on top of it. This didn't work for my husband. He complained that the extra pillow tilted his head at an awkward angle and gave him painful neck cramps. Thinking it was a simple request, he asked if we could take my grandmother's pillow off of the bed we now shared.
I absolutely did NOT want to do this. "It was my grandmother's pillow," I protested. He pointed out that he wasn't asking me to throw it away; he just didn't want it on our bed. The logical part of me knew that his request was not unreasonable. After all, it really is quite difficult to sleep if you're uncomfortable. Still, the emotional part of me was having a difficult time. Eventually I relented, but it was hard. My husband thought the significance I'd attached to my grandmother's pillow was a little strange.
Over time he noticed other somewhat quirky ways I held on to my grandmother. He pointed them out and asked me (with quite a bit of sensitivity, to his credit) if I thought I might be experiencing "grief issues." I try to be open to feedback from the important people in my life so I gave this some serious consideration. Ultimately, I concluded that no, I'm not suffering from "grief issues." Actually, I decided, my behaviors were simply ways I'd developed over time to honor my grandmother's memory.
This experience led to a lot of thought about grief on my part. The issue is relevant to everyone at some point in their lives. I frequently work with patients who are struggling with bereavement. In my opinion, losing a loved one is the single most difficult thing we as humans have to endure.
So what DO we do with our dead? There are many cultures that provide an acceptable place for the dead. In some cultures, the living look to their deceased ancestors for guidance and protection. There is no rigid delineation between the realm of the living and that of the dead.
American culture, unfortunately, does not deal well with death. Many have asserted that ours is a death-denying society. We see death as a failure and do any and everything possible to keep people alive, even in the absence of any quality of life (even in the absence of conscious awareness). Many people die in hospitals as opposed to at home, in the presence of their loved ones. When a person dies, we Americans typically look for someone to blame. Someone must have caused the death; it certainly isn't a natural thing! (sarcasm intended).
There are, I would imagine, many ways this problem could be addressed. For me, I will continue to make my grandmother a part of my life, just like she was when she was physically present. I will keep talking to her out loud; I tel her all the time that I love her and miss her. I will continue to share memories with my family and to listen when they share their memories with me. I will keep her picture in its place on my nightstand. I will continue to pray for our eventual reunification. I will still see things in stores and say, "Oh, Grandma would've loved that!" I will continue to embody the things that she taught me about loyalty and the value of family. I will do these things proudly and without a trace of shame. To me, just because my grandmother isn't physically here does not mean that she's gone.