When you lose someone you love, your grief must be expressed. Attempting to suppress it will only result in your grief coming out in an unhealthy way. Your personal health and happiness is affected by how you choose to express it. Rosanne Cash is honoring the memory of her father in way that is not only healing for her family but also for the many fans across the world who loved Johnny Cash. I had the opportunity to meet Rosanne and her aunt Joanne Cash at a fundraiser for the restoration and upkeep of the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home in Dyess, Arkansas. Although she never lived there, Rosanne did visit the home with her father when she was 12 years old. Johnny himself admitted that he had deep ties to his boyhood home and many of his songs were influenced by those memories, some painful. Rosanne said he knew and loved every rock on that property. His most painful memory was likely the loss of his brother, Jack, who at age 15 was in a tragic sawmill accident and died after several days of suffering. It has been suggested that the soulful, brooding Johnny Cash was born that day.
Young J.R., as he was known then, soon learned that people grew weary of him talking about his lost brother and closest friend, so he quit. It is well documented that Johnny dealt with his pain in ways that were unhealthy for years, later finding better ways to express it. Rosanne and the rest of the family have found a healing way to remember J.R., by restoring the boyhood home he loved so much. Purchased by Arkansas State University, the once dilapidated home is now almost exactly like it was in 1935. Joanne Cash, his sister, has been meticulous in her research and remembrance of the home in which they grew up together. She has overseen each detail of the home’s decoration, even down to their mother’s original piano and song books. From their mother they learned that music can sooth a troubled soul and smooth the edges of a rugged existence. The attraction not only portrays the history one of the most popular music artists of all time, but also serves as an example of the lives of impoverished delta farm families in the Dyess colony created by President Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Most of us don’t have a famous family member to whose home tens of thousands of fans would flock each year. Even keeping the room of a lost loved one unchanged is, after time, unrealistic and unhelpful. There are many ways to remember someone that promote growth and healing. Like Johnny, you could express yourself in a song, or write a poem, or a book. Some people plant a tree or a garden. I have known of public gardens in which you can dedicate a section as a memorial with a sign. There are many creative ways that you can have a positive effect on the people and world around you. Yours should reflect both your own memories and creative interests.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons, Thomas R Machnitzki photographer.
You can learn more about the project at http://dyesscash.astate.edu/.
Have you ever noticed a person who doesn’t seem to be acting appropriately after a life-changing event? People sometimes act out of character after being dealt a devastating blow. Many were incredulous when a father who had lost his child during the Sandy Hook shooting was laughing as he approached the podium for a news conference, only to turn serious and mournful in appearance when he started speaking. The conspiracy theorists claimed it was proof he was an actor and the whole event was faked. The truth is that his behavior is indeed bizarre, but also not abnormal for the situation. We have no idea all of the emotions that man was experiencing at the moment. His life was turned upside down by a death that was senseless.
I am reminded of episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show in which one of their coworkers at the TV station, Chuckles the Clown, passed away in a bizarre accident. At the funeral something made Mary laugh and she couldn’t hold it back. The more she tried, the more she laughed. Although some were mortified, it may have been a fitting response for a man whose career was to make people laugh. This was a good portrayal of grief that may seem unusual, even unseemly, but is not inappropriate. There is nothing normal about the death of someone you love, losing your job, losing your home, or any catastrophic event. These are disruptions to the framework of your life that you use everyday to define normal. For that reason it is quite common for a person to act in ways that others might determine to be improper for the environment. Those concerned should allow the grieving person to express it in whatever way they want, within reason. People who are hurting truly don’t know how to act and may go through a variety of emotions, some of which may seem strange.
It is okay to express your grief through tears, anger, laughter or even solitude. Of course their are inappropriate ways to grieve including self-medication and risky behavior. These will not heal, but take you away from peace and normalcy you seek. Some people will not understand your expressions of grief. Some will criticize you. It is good to have people in your life who will watch over you but just let you express yourself, unless you are endangering yourself or others. They can be family members who are more removed from the severity of the loss, or friends, or support groups. Feel free to contact me with concerns about your own grief or that of someone you know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
They are right there waiting for you when you get up in the morning or when you get home from work. They are excited to see you regardless of how you feel or how others feel about you. They are capable of giving you unconditional affection. It doesn’t matter how bad your day has been, they are glad to be with you. They may exercise with us, play with us, cuddle with us. We even take pictures with them (above is my family picture with our dog, George, in 2010). They definitely amuse us. The amount of funny pet videos is endless on TV and the web. Pets also care about us. I have seen my own pets approach my children when they are upset, obviously concerned. If you don’t think pets can grieve when they are separated from a human friend, search the internet, the stories and videos are numerous and compelling. Books and movies about pets often involve the loss of the pet as a part of the story. Such stories as Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Marley and Me, and The Incredible Journey are just a few. These are quite popular because people identify with them and it validates the love and grief they have felt for pets.
Our pets have distinct personalities and the way their dispositions match up with our own determines the depth of affection, just like human relations. You likely have had pets that you felt closer to than others. Just like with other people, the closer you are to a pet determines the depth of your grief. I have known some people for whom it is so difficult, they simply don’t ever get another pet for fear of going through it again. Certainly to immediately go out and get another pet is not going to erase the pain of losing a cherished friend. The grief is just as real as losing a human loved one. Below I have included a couple of links that are very helpful in traveling the through the grief of losing a pet.
Just as in grieving over a lost human friend, sometimes losing an animal friend may cause you to have trouble returning to life as it was before you lost them. How can you? They are no longer there. Life without them can be difficult at first. You may need to talk to someone who understands that your grief is legitimate and can help you find a new life without your friend. Don’t bury the hurt, express it, and get help if you need it.
Coping with Pet Loss
Humane Society: Coping with the Death of Your Pet
Recently the loss of music legends Glenn Frey, David Bowie, and Maurice White made many of us feel melancholy. Fans of Celine Dion may have grieved for her when she lost both her husband and her brother within a few days. People sometimes ask me if it is normal for us to grieve when someone that we don’t even know dies. Are we just overly obsessed fans? Sometimes callous remarks are made that people who grieve over celebrities should “get a life”. We didn’t really know them, right? Of course we don’t know them, but we do have a connection to them. When John F. Kennedy passed away, a whole nation grieved. Very few of them ever met the president. People all over the world grieved for the loss of Princess Diana.
Music holds a unique and powerful place in most of our lives. You hear “Take It Easy” or “Lying Eyes” by the Eagles and it takes you right back to childhood summers at the local swimming pool. “Modern Love” comes on the radio, and reminds you of watching David Bowie on MTV with your friends in college. Maybe you saw Earth, Wind, and Fire on tour just a few years ago and sat listening, as I did, and reminisced about an old love with whom you used to dance to “That’s The Way of The World”. The artists who created these songs wrote the soundtrack to our life events. It’s is no wonder that it’s sad to hear of their passing. It reminds us of our own mortality and, if nothing else, that we are getting older. When Glenn Frey passed away I heard radio personalities both local and national admit it bummed them out a little. I had seen The Eagles live just six months prior to the news of his death and it took the wind out of my sails for a bit. It is normal and healthy to grieve when you lose a part of your life history. It only becomes a concern if you were already in a debilitating state of grief and this takes you farther down.
People who are in a foggy pattern of grief don’t need much to take them deeper. Often a person deep in grief will feel like bad news is just piling on, even if the events are years apart. The truth is that losses such as that of a favorite musician are happening to everyone. It feels like life is just dealing you blow after blow. People often say, “What next?” in anticipation. There is no doubt something else is going to happen. Both good news and bad comes every day. It just feels personal and more severe because you are already hurting. If these kinds of things are causing you grief that you can’t shake, don’t ignore it. Talk to someone that understands and can help you. Often you just need to express your grief to someone who is not judgmental and can help guide you through it. If you are grieving and seek help, there are a variety of options. Email me at email@example.com for suggestions.
Photo used by permission, Flickr Creative Commons, by jeaneeem
“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.” Elizabeth Wurtzel
The fog of grief can be overwhelming and debilitating, leaving the grieving person unable to function properly. Even the most familiar daily tasks become difficult or impossible to complete. When there is a painful shift in your life, nothing makes sense anymore. You can’t return to the familiar because the much of the familiar doesn’t exist anymore. It never will again. You are left feeling consumed by the unknown, in despair, immobile. This can be a consuming fog for a person who has experienced the loss of a family member, a friend, or even a job. We often speak of fog as “lifting” but grief this deep usually doesn’t just go away. Nobody, no matter how much they love you, can take it away. Somehow, you have to find your own way out of the fog and into a new beginning.
For me it was the loss of my wife, Tina, after her battle with cancer that brought the fog. Well, it really began before that. I remember while she was in ICU and I knew she would not come home again, a close friend came by to visit. He said, “Are you okay? You seem to be in a fog.” I wasn’t okay and he could see it. The fog had already drifted in when, after an eight month battle, the doctor told me we weren’t going to win. My mind couldn’t handle it. What will I tell the kids? What will I say to her parents? Should I keep fighting? Am I giving up too easily? How will we live without her? These were just a few of the many layers of fog that began to cloud my mind and there was no good answer for any of them. For the first time of my life I could not say myself, “It will all be okay.” Of course it only got worse a few days later when she truly left us. Grief and depression came to stay after the funeral.
Grief and depression do not have to come together. A person can most certainly have depression which is not brought on by grief. Likewise it is possible to move through the grief process without becoming deeply depressed, but it is not as likely if you try to do it alone. Along with the support of family and friends, sometimes the help of a professional is needed to help find a new and happier life. I help people find their way out of the fog. I started Genesis Grief Care to help people find their own Genesis, their new beginning. I have a variety of options to help. First of all keep reading this blog. I will be updating with new information regularly. If you would like help please contact me at 501-249-9810 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for help. Let me help you find your new life.