I Believe in Grief
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86 I Believe in Grief I believe in grief. Almost every day, when I walk into the hospital, I hear crying, moaning, or wailing: a young woman has miscarried, an elderly widower is holding his wife’s belongings, a mother stands guard over her badly burned child. Once I would have rushed to comfort these people. Uncomfortable myself with their grief, I’d want to ease their sadness with my cheer and consolation. I’d hug a patient and tell her to “try to get pregnant next month.” I’d reassure the widower, telling him, “Your wife had a long life.” I’d enter the burned child’s room in Intensive Care with a smile rather than encouraging the mother to weep in my arms. When my own mother died I was terrified, confused about how I was expected to act. Was I allowed to be the grieving daughter, or should I be the competent, grief-denying professional? I held my mother’s wrist, counting her pulse as it slowed. After her last breath, I rang for the nurse. Heart pounding, I waved goodbye to my mother, her gray hair bright against the sheets, and said, “Bye Mom!” in the cheery voice I’d practiced all my life. I didn’t know then that I could have climbed into bed and held her, or that I should have wailed when she was gone. It wasn’t until I had stayed with many dying patients and, finally, with my dying father, that I allowed myself to grieve—for my parents, for those lost patients, for all their loved ones who, as I once did, held back their tears. At my father’s death I cried like a child, not caring that I made the gulping noises of unrestrained mourning. Now, years later, I know that it is both necessary and human for us to wallow, each in our own way, in grief. I no longer comfort others with false cheer. In the hospital, where my encounters with patients are ever more distanced by sterile gloves, computer protocols, and the pressures of time, one way I can still be present is during their moments of grief. I don’t encourage anyone to move on, to replace, to remarry, or put the photos or the memories away. Grief must be given its time. Davis text.indb 86 11/12/08 10:00:39 AM i believe in grief  87 I believe that both the caregivers and the cared-for should be free to scream and cry and fall to the floor—if not actually, then at least in the heart. I believe that grief, fully expressed, will change over time into something less overpowering, even granting us a new understanding, a kind of double vision that comprehends both the beauty and fragility of life. When I grieve, when I stand by others as they grieve, even in the midst of seemingly unbearable sorrow, grief becomes a way to honor life; a way to cling to every fleeting, precious moment of joy. Davis text.indb 87 11/12/08 10:00:39 AM ...