On Grief

There’s been a lot of discussion about grief since the election: what is “proper” grief, when to get over grief, and people denying the grief of others. Two months ago, this post would have probably just been a rant about not telling people how to grieve, but then my friend Bubby Jerimyah D’Luv died suddenly.

And the grief over the election fell into grief over Jerimyah. I lit my candle for him, and wore my rainbow socks to his memorial. I was his friend, but I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked with him. But I have my memories of the times we did spend together. Going to Hobbee’s. Doing the body acceptance workshop. The look of happiness on his face when I went to visit him in the hospital and we talked about going swimming together sometime.

“What is remembered lives,” I said at the memorial.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, one of the Mothers of Refuge, Emerald O’Leary, passed. So, grief again. She was a sassy Irish lady, who was an amazing artist. One year at Easter she, with the other artists at Refuge, made Easter hats. She came up to me right before service and handed me this glorious hat saying I should wear it for service. So I did (the picture is on my Facebook page, so there’s proof!). There was a lot I didn’t know about her, but what I do know, I cherish.

I lit my candles for her, too, and remembered that she, too, will live because we remember her.

And then, this week, my friend Cynan passed away. He was always a gentleman and a big bear of a man. He was mostly a friend, but we also some adult fun with each other a bit in the first few years I was in the Bay Area. I remember hanging out with him and his wife in their apartment a long time ago, with Cynan in his big chair and Kim in hers. I don’t even remember why I had gone over that day, but it sticks in my memory. I remember him singing in the hallways at Pantheacon, and smiling as I heard his voice down the hall. He also gave amazing hugs, and you knew you were hugged. We hadn’t talked as much in the last few years, except at cons and parties if he was there, but he was always present when he was in the room, which I can’t really explain much better than that.

I’ve been lighting candles for him, too.

Which also brings me to the fact that we’re moving to Chicago at the end of February. Today I realized, that there’s grief there, too. We’ll be leaving friends and the coven to start something new in a new place. It’s exciting in the fact that things will be new (and I’m looking forward to seasons and summer thunderstorms again), but it’s also sad to be leaving what we have here.

And when we’re in Chicago, I know I’ll be lighting my candles for that grief when I get my altar set up.

I’ve studied a lot about grief, since working with those who are dying is part of my vocation. In fact, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ work is something that I’ve studied in depth. But I think that there’s a lot of people who really misunderstood her work on the stages of grief, and if you read her books, you’ll see that she explicitly states many times that the stages of grief are not a straight line. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are non-linear. Sometimes a person may not even go through one of the stages, or experience more than one at a time. It’s a huge misunderstanding to expect someone to just go through the stages and be done with their grieving in a set period of time.

What Kübler-Ross tries to explain in her work, and what I’ve experienced myself in working with those who are grieving the loss of a loved one and in my own grief, is that you need to respect the grieving process. It doesn’t matter what the person is grieving over, either. Whether it’s a loved one, a pet, the election, a celebrity, or even a sportsball loss. No matter the source, the grief is real.

We’ve been taught, in American society at least, that our grief should be something that we hide, or if we don’t “get over it” quickly we’re somehow mentally ill, or being stupid. It’s worse if someone is grieving over a pet, or a celebrity, or something others deem not worthy of any extended period of grief.

I think that what we’ve been taught is wrong.

I think that not showing our grief, wailing, crying, singing laments, or being denied the ability to publicly express our grief is wrong.

So I give all of you who are grieving, no matter what you are grieving, the permission to cry out loud, to shout, to rage, to sing, to wail, to write, to do anything you need to express that grief. I give you permission to grieve whether someone else thinks it silly or not. I give you permission to not talk about your grief, to hermit, to be alone in your grief. I give you permission to grieve for as long as you need to. I give you permission to grieve publicly, in community, and if I am there to witness your grief, I will make sure you are allowed that space without someone bothering you or telling you that your grief is invalid.

And I will give myself this same permission, because I am grieving, too.

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