Good grief...

There’s no Doppler radar for this. You almost never see it coming. Sometimes it gives you a hint at its arrival—losing your keys, forgetting appointments, a sudden wish that everything would stop or everyone would shut up. But mostly, grief slams into you full force, leaving your insides shattered. Grief doesn’t pick your best day or even your worst day. It picks any day it damn well wants. It picks the very day and time it needs to.  Grief doesn’t run on your, or anyone else’s schedule. It runs according to its own inner maniacal, goddam, genius wisdom.  And it leaves you in pieces, taking one simple breath at a time wondering how you are going to get through the next hour.

Meanwhile, what is so absolutely crazy, is that everything else in the world looks normal. Completely and utterly normal. You have been hit by hurricane force winds and a massive storm surge. And no one else sees it. You are standing in the room, soaking wet and blown around and everyone else is just talking like nothing happened. It’s insane. You stare at them and try to make out their words and sentences. You try to nod and smile so no one notices your soaking clothes and your windblown hair. And for that moment you hate everyone around you for acting like it’s all okay. Acting like there isn’t this giant loss, this gaping hole where your heart usually is. And forget language. Words are entirely too small to describe your current condition. It feels pointless to try.

When it hits, like it did for me today, you have to work so hard to remember that there is something beyond the storm. This is why grief is so very hard at the beginning of any loss or any journey of healing. It is why we stay away from it. In the beginning all you know is the storm. You haven’t come through it once, or even twenty times to know what’s on the other side. And knowing it never, ever makes the storm less powerful. Knowing what’s on the other side doesn’t make the grief feel better, or less painful. It just helps you hold on long enough for the storm to pass. It keeps you from running from it. It helps you allow the grief to do its good work.

The good work never feels good. There’s no magic on the other side of a storm. But there is more. More of something.  What’s been splintered during the storm has opened up space. More space inside you where there was tightness or pain. More ground beneath your feet. It won’t protect you from the next wave of grief, but it does allow you to hold the love and grief of others in a bigger way—and eventually it allows you to hold your own. And that is good. 

© Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD 2014

Take two poems and call me in the morning

As a psychologist I don't get to write prescriptions, but if I could, I would most often write them for poems. The language of healing is the language of emotions. And the language of emotions is a hard one for most people to learn. As someone who teaches emotional intelligence in the corporate world, I can tell you that being able to sense your emotion, name it, and then be able to talk about it —and manage it—is a skill that everyone is working on. And when you have lived through long term trauma, this skill is even harder. 

But once you can identify the feeling and want to talk about it, words can fail. I have found that the words often just feel too small for the feeling you are having—or somehow the words don’t connect to the feeling—it feels hollow. But one place that feelings learn to connect to words, and images and stories is poems. Poetry is the intersection of all things emotional. Poems allow your brain to begin to hold the images, feelings, and words in one place, at the same time, without the pressure of a full narrative. 

Poetry?! I hear you saying…I know poems may not seem macho enough for some of you, but that’s because you haven’t met the right poets. You need to meet David Whyte. He’s a poet who, if you saw him, you could say: Man, that guy could kick my ass. Actually, he doesn't need to lay a hand on you-- the blows come anyway. His words help lost parts of yourself find each other. His words can give you the capacity to capture your courage to heal again. In this blog I will often bring in poems and pieces of poems—they are the often the best first start to the language of healing and the practice of living. Poems are invitations to the journey that so many have dared to make—the journey of loss and the journey of reconnecting with life. When you read a poem you join an immense group of fellow pilgrims. You are not alone in your work, in your healing. So in order to heal you can start with this poem—an invitation to start, to find your voice and your courage. David Whyte’s poem Start Close In ~ Here's the first stanza, and the poem read by the author below.

Start close in,

don’t take the second step

or the third,

start with the first


close in,

the step

you don’t want to take.

David's books are available here: Most are available on kindle as well. 

© Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD 2014