In Part 1 of this four-blog series, we recognized the different pace in which our heart and mind tend to operate, comparing the example to Aesop‘s fable of The Tortoise and the Hare:
Our mind processes and adjusts with extraordinary speed and power, similarly to the hare’s rapid speed during its race.
Changes of heart occur much more slowly and patiently, more like the tortoise’s slow and steady progress to victory.
Like the Hare, when we grieve, we impatiently desire and act in a manner to satisfy, and we often refuse to be patient for it. We want quick restoration, and we want meaningful relief…and satisfaction.
We will exhaust ourselves to achieve it.
To satisfy is ‘to complete, or to make happy, or to somehow make reparation’. That’s why many tend to apply false expectations for ‘recovery’.
We often judge ourselves and others on how and when emotions are displayed, and to what degree they are displayed.
We set expectations.
We critique or condemn what we think are erratic or failed responses to simple, daily events. We misinterpret words or behaviors when they do not align with our framed view of response.
Mostly…we assign a time element to all things related to grief.
Consider some examples of assigning a time element to our grieving experience:
- We remind ourselves to resolve our grief, with pressing anticipation. “I hope I don’t feel this way for long”, and, “hopefully this will soon be over.”
- We invite business and activity to fill the void of loss. “keeping busy helps me not think so much about it. Otherwise, every day feels like an eternity!”
- We compare ourselves to others who’ve experienced grief. “They seemed to recover pretty quickly, so why not me?”
- Others assign their expectation of us as a duration of time. “Gee, it’s been several years since he’s been gone, you’d think she’d be doing better by now. Isn’t it time she moved on?”
- We gauge another person’s display of emotion as a reflection of time. “They had hardly spoken to each other in over five years. Why does he cry so hard? It seems to be a bit much, don’t you think?”
We tend to approach grief as a mostly cognitive experience, with logical, reasonable solutions, and familiar social patterns. We try to apply tangible, functional solutions hoping to safely grip our strange, new experience and live our life in normalcy after a deep loss.
The results can immediately satisfy, but like The Hare’s example, they are often unsustainable.
A wife and mother of three teenage children lost her husband in an auto accident. She felt the loss in her family was unbearable for her and prided herself on her ability to sharply rebound and carry forward with her life. Her loved ones and friends worked to evolve through their grief experience while she diligently championed her household, her family, her social life, and her career. She was a desperately busy woman who often proclaimed, “I have things to do. I have no time for grief.”
But then, nearly five years later, while attending an appointment at the hospital where her husband died after his accident, she suddenly felt the full burden of her loss and an immense load of grief. Her emotions and her actions were that of someone who had very recently experienced loss.
She reached out for help, but many in her family rejected her pleas for consolation, while others considered her ‘crazy’ and in need of hospitalization. They felt too much time had passed and they refused to return to that experience with her. They questioned her mental health due to her recent behavior. She wasn’t crazy, but her heavy feelings of grief were now compounded by feelings of isolation, rejection, and even abandonment.
Years earlier she had denied herself the patience to fully experience her grief, only to later face a much more difficult experience.
It may lead one to wonder how Aesop, the Greek fabulist, and storyteller who authored The Tortoise and the Hare, may have experienced grief during his life. According to Aesop’s own testament:
“The race is not always to the swift.”
Like many things in our life, we want a quick recovery from our loss and swift relief from our difficult experiences. It’s a common desire because the burden of grief can be heavy, indeed, and it often requires relentless effort to carry.
We often convince ourselves resting will not solve the problem because silence and stillness often intensify our emotions in grief. Instead, we speedily pursue restoration so we can put it behind us and move on with our life.
When we know others who are grieving, we hope for their quick and healthy recovery too. We don’t want them to ‘suffer’. We so much want them to be happy again, smiling, and healthy, that we may even begin to dismiss or deny the reality of what they are experiencing.
In some cases, we even hope for another person’s rapid recovery, so we no longer need to feel our own sorrow for their grief. It hurts us to know someone whom we care about is struggling through grief. It is saddening to think about how their day might be proceeding, or how long their nights may seem.
We want their grief to soon end, not always for their comfort, but for ours.
The Hare jumps forward, sprinting with vigor to reach that finish line and end the race.
The Tortoise makes a very different approach, and much like The Hare, we too suspect it’s a problem for the tortoise. We think he’s moving far too slowly, and we believe he will never win that race.
In Part III of this blog series, we’ll discover how Tortoise’s example awakens us to see some surprising lessons about the stillness of grieving.