Grief: Part 2 – Grief is Another Way of Remembering

“Grief is another way of remembering,” said my pastor friend who died too young (see previous blog). She said this at my father’s memorial. He died from drinking. For many years all I could remember was the slovenliness of drunkenness. Grieving, like remembering, takes time. It is a process, never fully accomplished.

But slowly I remembered finer memories. Looking at photos helped me to discover what was also there. I see sober Christmases and I can hear telephone conversations when I worked in a mining camp and I had something to say that impressed him. He would call me “son.” I remembered him putting together my green CCM bike with ribbons falling from the handgrips.

I was afraid of my father and I felt hurt and anger much of my life. That was the core of my grief. Grief is often a mush of fear and hurt and anger – all primitive emotions. When I experienced some of this over time, I discovered the tenderness just below. Sorrow needs to be wept out or sobbed out – it can hardly be thought out. Tears help us drain the pain.

If my unconscious carries an unexpressed wound from my past, I will always be black and blue inside. I will not be able to approach life with my eyes looking forward for fear they will trigger the repressed pain. Have you met people who cannot look into your eyes for fear that you will look into theirs?

People have said to me, “It was the way you looked at me. You didn’t take your eyes from mine.” I have learned to see grief and the emotional mush that is behind it.

The grief that I carry stowed away has great power over me. More than ruminating, I become a rumination. Until I feel my grief and allow myself to know it, I will not be free of its grip.

You may know the song, “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton as he grieved the accidental death of his young son. He sings, “I must be strong and carry on, ‘Cuz I know I don’t belong, here in heaven.” This grief connects him to the child he loves.

Until I know how to grieve with my heart and my soul, with my voice and my time, I will never know how to love with all my heart either. Jesus gives us a model to follow. And his words are true: “Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

Mental Illness: A Parent’s Journey (Stu Ducklow)

Stella_Ducklow

The following article was written by my brother about his daughter. Both have given permission for this to be re-posted on my blog. Stu said it was okay “as long as Stella gets all the credit” — that’s like my brother.

I have previously posted about Stella’s depression and struggle with mental illness (please see below).


Like most parents, we thought our first-born child was extraordinary, and we hovered over her as much as any helicopter parent.

She seemed to need more attention than most. When she nearly died of anaphylactic shock at age 4, we sought help from specialists ranging from a pediatric immunologist to Reiki practitioners. When eczema kept her from sleeping, we covered her with creams and dosed her with prescription meds.  When she was hospitalized for asthma, we gave away our four cats.

When she had trouble in Grade 1, we enrolled her in a private school where students were expected to learn to read via the ‘whole language’ process which spurned phonics and spelling. When she still couldn’t read, we took her to an after-school program that drilled her in the very same phonics and spelling that we were paying the other school to avoid. Stella was reading above grade level in a few months.

But we couldn’t come up with a solution for the all-day crying jags, cutting and constant dieting that began at about the age of 16. We turned to the provincial mental health system for help. We had a lot to learn. While mental health professionals are nearly always kind and well-meaning, the system they work for seems designed to serve administrators more than the patients.

For example, Stella was confined to her unit during one short stay because staff was thinking of moving her to another unit and they wanted her available at short notice. This meant that our daily one-hour drive around Halifax, the high point of her day, was forbidden. Fortunately a good-hearted nurse bent the rules when I promised to deliver her within ten minutes of a call to my cell phone.

Over the next ten years we got used to waiting up to 16 hours in emergency wards when Stella felt suicidal or overcome with anxiety or depression. In contrast, she was seen immediately for a fractured ankle, though broken bones aren’t nearly as harmful as suicidal thoughts.

She was admitted at least ten times for short stays of about a week. Though she saw many psychiatrists, they confined themselves to adjusting her meds. Requests for some form of psychotherapy were met with blank stares. She was given a regular outpatient worker who she met with for about a year but that person was hostile to us as parents and dismissive of Stella’s chances of recovery once she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. 

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Would You Like to Super-Size That?

Size matters in emotions. Some spouses bark, bully, blame and belittle with the noisier suppressing the other by volume and spite. Others may coerce their partners and kids to “submit” thinking they have some theological “right to respect” (which they clearly don’t!). Kids up-turn power into tantrums and tyranny. And then lots of families “tiptoe” their lives, waiting for the next tsunami. Yes, size matters especially the size of noise and especially again the noise of coercion. It is as if we “super-size” our emotions, pumping up insanity to defeat an enemy that used to be friends and family.

“I don’t know why you’ve got to be angry all the time,” she said to her husband of 7 years, clients of mine for several months. As I write this, I am listening to Tim McGraw singing “Angry All the Time” and that comment is the refrain: “I don’t know why you’ve got to be angry all the time.” (You can hear / watch this on You Tube. This is a tiptoe marriage, like my client friends, with super-sized emotions.

I have come from a week of super-sized emotions; watching super-sized partners push and prod while their tiptoe spouses lose voice, hiding and hoping for anything else. You know of course, that it is not either men or women who coerce – in some families it is both.

I want to tell you about a conflict questionnaire that I have used over the years in my teaching and consulting. I would love it if you became an expert in understanding conflict (not necessarily doing it!). The “Thomas Kilmann Conflict Inventory” is resourceful for people who want to understand conflict and why it perpetuates.

I can provide this assessment for you. Please contact me.

My New Anxiety Mantra

Anxiety manifests physically before your brain can figure out what’s going on. You might feel it in your gut or in your breathing. But watch yourself to see what happens with you.

Today I was doing supervision with a fellow psychologist and she asks 3 questions of herself when she is anxious. I think that I will try it with myself and I recommend it to you as well.

First question: “What am I anxious about?” and give yourself some time to figure it out. It might surprise you that it is not what you first think it is. If you think a bit deeper, you might find a thread of anxiety that runs throughout your emotional life. And it might not be the current circumstance or tension you are dealing with.

Second, “Whose problem is it?” Most anxious people take on the upset feelings of others in their emotional world (e.g. mothers, teachers, neighbourhood children…) and think it is theirs to worry about. Again, think it through and get to the truth.

And #3: “Is there anything I can do about it right now?” If not, let it go. At least until you figure you need to pick it up again.

Now I have a weird disclosure to make. I use the “Reminders” app on my MacBook to tell me when I should start to worry about something! When I put a time clock beside the thing I am anxious about, my iPhone gives me a ding to remind me to be anxious. I laugh when I see that I have reminded myself to worry. Weird isn’t it? Reduces my anxiety though.

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