Grieving in America – you have three days to get over it and back to work.

As writers we are observers of life, and we tap our own experiences to understand what makes us whole and thus our characters whole. Grief is a part of life. But in modern America, grief is an inconvenience that you need to ‘buck up’ and ‘suck your stomach in’ and ‘man up’ to handle. Most companies feel they are being generous by allowing you three days of bereavement leave – but only if it’s a parent, child, or sibling. Everyone else in your family – one day. Sorry about your closest friend – no time off at all. That’s a vacation day. It’s the bottom line that counts, and you having freeloading time off at company expense is not in favor of the bottom line. Of course you are expected to come back to work, focus on your tasks, maintain your emotions appropriate to the needs of your co-workers … in short, you have to get the hell over it. Move on.

As someone who writes about the Victorian age, I once thought the formal mourning process to be a bit over the top. I’ve changed my mind. While I’m not suffering grief caused by death, I am grieving over a significant, painful loss that frankly has gutted my soul and torn my heart. But in modern America, I can’t even grieve openly because death is the only allowable reason for mourning. It’s insane. I want to do what the Victorians did: I want a period of mourning set where people appreciate my process and I can be emotional as needed. I look pretty good in a black veil though I will admit that it might be a tad too much, but can we not have some physical sign that says: I hurt, comfort me at my pace or be kind and leave me in peace?

We are told when, how, and especially how long we can grieve. But that is a very personal thing that cannot be managed or controlled. It can’t be rushed. It isn’t that we grieve evenly, slowing down and loosing the pain until it diminishes into the ether. Sorry, grief stays with us always, we simply learn to cope and to reduce the hurt as much as we can. But we always carry a little hole in our life for every loss. This is how we recognize ‘living:’ seeing through those holes. And, grief isn’t a handy thing with an OFF button. Grief ebbs and flows. It seems healed then rears its ugly head. It makes us stupid, and believe me, I’ve been doing ‘stupid’ quite a bit lately. I was wondering why until I figured out that I don’t know how to mourn … very few people do today.

So, if you can see this process in your characters, that’s great. If you can allow yourself to fully heal and grow PERSONALLY, forget the writing for just a moment, then I hope this post has made a difference. We are human, and maybe the Victorians had it right … maybe we need to be allowed to be human and supported by our family, community, and our culture.

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