A New Way to Look at Grieving

What if we viewed all of life’s hardships as natural, and took it as normal that our struggles with them should be tackled in full view of and with open support from our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers?

passengers pull together to hoist a sail

Just as a sail is too heavy to hoist alone, grief is too heavy to bear alone.

I got to thinking about this after I heard Alix Spiegel on NPR report on how differently Japanese and Americans tackle classroom education. In America, the brightest student is held up for peer praise and respect, while the one struggling to learn is left alone, nearly shamed and shunned. In Japan, the student who is having the most difficulty is brought before the class and learns in front of his peers, with their encouragement. They all share in the student’s accomplishment of conquering the difficult lesson. Struggling to learn is seen as a natural part of the journey to become educated.

I am struck by two facts. One is the open acceptance of the struggle. The teacher and peers openly give their support and it is openly received by the student. The other is the recognition that learning is a journey and eventual success is expected and perhaps inevitable. 

In America and in much of the world, when a person dies, we publicly show support for those who are grieving. We come together to commemorate the life that has ended. We bring casseroles, send a card, make a memorial gift, go to the funeral. When we are grieving for our loss, we openly acknowledge what has happened, we state our grief, we accept support from others.

We have no similar public acknowledgement and support for any other struggle in life. Not for divorce, job loss, or marital infidelity, nor for diagnosis of life-threatening illness or birth defect, not for loss of limb or physical function.

News of these things is shared in hushed tones and rarely mentioned again. We are expected to struggle on our own and be quiet about it. Just like the student who struggles to learn, we are shamed and shunned for our feelings.

“Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow”

Friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief.

 ~ Swedish Proverbs

I think that all of life is made to be shared, not just the good parts like weddings and perfect births and the acceptable parts like death after a long life or even after a heroic struggle against a terminal illness.

What if we didn’t struggle in secret with life’s trials? What if we felt free to ask for the support and help that we need? What if others knew how to help us and understood our need for it?

Japanese students who struggle and conquer difficult lessons come through not only enriched by knowledge, but also strengthened by their accomplishment. Having experienced the journey and realized success, they are better equipped for the next struggle they encounter. Their peers observe life involves both struggle and conquest.

When we can give open support and honest encouragement to our peers, we help them through their journey of grief. We not only help them emerge stronger, we give ourselves greater confidence in our ability to conquer our struggles.

Life Is Hot: The irony is not lost on me that learning to communicate with each other honestly and openly about the bad patches in our lives is itself a struggle. When we are grieving, it takes courage to openly ask for the support of others, and strength to accept their support. When someone we love is grieving, it takes courage for us to step up and give support. Embracing the honest, open and true life means that we find the courage to ask for, accept and give support.

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