So You think You Are Done Grieving?

Sometimes I may read something that appears unrelated to grief and my brain will start putting some thoughts together. This happened last month when I was reading an article about a playwriter named Tarell Alvin McRaney. It was titled “Connoisseur of Grief” (NY Times Sunday Magazine, January 20,2019).The author of the article, Carvell Wallace, describes a rehearsal of a new play, “Choir Boy”. McRaney, as the playwriter, was in attendance sitting quietly in the back of the theater.
At one point, the director and actors were at a stuck point trying to solve a problem with a scene. McRaney approached the stage and began talking about his experience with losing his mother at the age of 22. He shared the following:

“Mcraney described how grief lives in a person’s body, how it settles there. He explained it’s half-life, the unreliable nature of its decay. He talked about the phenomenon, when grieving a loved one, in which you begin to have memories of times after their death that you think they must have been present for. He talked about how things like that make you grieve their absence all over again, and how that grief catches you unawares when you least expect it.”

I hadn’t read anything like that in print with the exception of specific grief related literature. I had to stop and digest this because it was powerful how McRaney described the unpredictability of the grief experience. I have heard clients describe this phenomena and experienced this with my own losses. I often think that when we are triggered by stimuli like movies, songs, seeing someone who resembles a deceased loved one, it feels like being punched in the stomach.

The effect on the actors was immediate. One of them asked to try something different. Everyone agreed that it solved the puzzle of making the scene work. Although McRaney spoke of something seemingly unelated, It moved the process along. It reminds me of how the narrative of our grief can have unintended consequences that can be amazingly healing. In another article I read in The New Yorker (February 4, 2019), the importance of meaning making of our grief experience and the importance of telling our stories is evident.

The article is a review by critic James Wood of a book by the Mexican writer, Valeria Luiselli titled “Tell Me How It Ends”. She is quoted as saying, “In the meantime, while the story continues, the only thing to do is tell it over again as it develops, bifurcates, knots around itself. And it must be told, because before anything can be understood, it has to be narrated many times, in many words and from many different angles, by many different minds”. Specifically, she is writing about the crisis at our borders and the separation of children from their parents, a tragic and meanspirited loss of security, identity and hope.

So, in closing, these articles spoke to me in a profound way. It reinforces ideas about the grieving experience that I have entertained for several years. I have also been influenced by writers in the bereavement field who have articulated these thoughts in more eloquent ways. I’m grateful that I have been given the opportunity to work with clients whose lives have been touched by tragedy.

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