For the Birds

 In Grief

“You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.” ( Old Chinese proverb)

When we suffer a loss we naturally grieve. That grief can trigger a variety of emotions including intense sorrow, possible anger and resentment, guilt, or indignation, as well as physical distress. It is a personal process that is unavoidable. We cannot expect to live our lives without having to say good-bye to a loved one at some point. By allowing ourselves to grieve, it helps us to heal as we repair that which was damaged by death. It is a lonely journey and we all process our emotions differently. One method is not superior to another, they are just different.

And so I was disturbed when I heard on the nightly news at the end of January that a panel appointed by the American Psychiatric Association was proposing changes to the industry’s guide for mental illnesses. The new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which is scheduled to be published next year, was considering classifying grief as a “disorder“. I immediately stopped washing the dinner dishes to make sure that I heard the broadcaster correctly. I later read a follow-up article in the newspaper confirming the message.

“My, ” I thought, ” there sure are going to be quite a few people with a ‘disorder’ soon. And eventually, we will all be afflicted I am afraid.”

Will someone try and come up with a new medication to speed up the grieving process or to dull its pain so we do not have to endure its grip? For how long will the treatment be effective? I would hate to see television ads exploiting vulnerable, grieving people and promising relief with a new medication or treatment.

I do not understand the need to ” medicalize” a normal behavior such as grief. By doing so, it runs the risk of placing an unnecessary stigma on a person by saying that his or her behavior is abnormal. Should we not grieve at all? Are we to just forget and move on? Out of sight, out of mind?

Instead, I agree with the 18th century English poet William Cowper who said, “Grief is itself a medicine.” It is indeed a healing process. My foot prints earned a place on the challenging grief path along with the millions who came before me and the roadway has unlimited miles for future travelers. After many tears, and with great introspection, I learned to accept my season of grief as a period in my life when I was truly tested. I used my experience as an opportunity to reach a deeper understanding of myself and in the end , I gained a greater appreciation for my life and for that of others. I was fortunate that the  “birds of sorrow” did not linger too long and left me free of  their “nests”.

I hope that this proposed document does not end up including grief as a medical “disorder”. I believe the process of grieving actually helps to put our lives back into a healthy order, rather than staying in disorder. Worldwide, cultures approach grief differently. Some are more open with their emotions than others and its people freely grieve as a community. I would not like to see our society simply resort to a label and open the door for an inappropriate economic opportunity.

I learned so much from my grieving process and part of that enlightenment was the realization of our human need to share. “Grief shared is grief diminished” wisely said Rabbi Grollman. As we travel through life, we make gains and we suffer losses. But we are not alone. We can help each other celebrate the good times and console each other during the bad times.

May you all have a healthy sharing community that puts you on its shoulders as you rise, and bends down and lifts you up when you fall.

Make time to reach out to each other, and let me know how it feels.


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