Yesterday we looked at the pressure I exert on myself to write.
Today I want to look at a different kind of pressure. The pressure the world puts on us to just “get over it.”
You hear it all the time! “Just get over it.” “Man up.” “It’s in the past.” “Move on.”
Why do we do this? Why do we put so much pressure on others to “just get over it”?
I’m interested in this topic mostly because of my relationship with J.G. and her family, but also because of a few other friends of mine going through something similar: The loss of a loved one. Either death or breakups can produce the same kind of mourning: the change of a life you were very comfortable living. We get comfortable in long-term relationships and when those relationships change we go through a period of time where we struggle with our self-worth as a member of the human race.
Why me? Why him/her? Will I ever love again? How can I possibly get out of bed with this feeling? My heart will never be whole again.
In America, we seem to think that simply by saying, “Just get over it” it’s going to shock the mourner out of mourning instantly. “By Jove your right!” the mourner will cry. “The sadness has magically been lifted from my heart! Thank you so much for shaking me awake!”
But how rooted in reality is that idea? That we can just shake it off and keep going as though nothing happened?! NO! It’s not true at all. For each mourner, the mourning is different. Each story is different. Each path is different and needs to be tread differently.
You are driving on a dark night and there are two routes to get to your friends house. You have a decision to make. Do you drive through the brightly lit well-paved path, or do you take the shortcut through the woods? You have high beams, you are a good driver, it’s not raining, so you decide to take the short-cut through the woods.
But half way down the path in starts to rain. It’s a hard rain, the dirt road gets slippery forcing you to slow down. Then your head-lights burn out and you are plunged into darkness. You go over a bridge and just as you cross, the bridge collapses behind you. You are now, quite literally, trapped in the woods in the rain and darkness without a choice to turn around.
You now have another choice to make: Do you wait for the rain to stop, or do you plunge along down the path slowly and eventually get to your friends house? Undoubtedly, you take some time here to evaluate your circumstances, do you not? Perhaps you get out of the car and take a look at your surroundings to get a lay of the land. Maybe you turn on the radio for a weather forecast. Maybe you just sit for a moment to give yourself a pep talk. You know you can’t stay here forever, but the situation is pretty intense. You are stuck in the woods in bad weather and you don’t have a choice but to go forward.
Then the thought crosses your mind, “I should have stayed on the main road.”
Well, you didn’t. You didn’t stay on the main road, and now you’re here. What do you do?
You can call your friend, tell them where you are and ask for help, or you can pull yourself out of your funk and tread the path alone. But you are shaken, you feel like your going to throw up, you’re scared. Maybe you cry, or feel like crying.
Congratulations! You’re in mourning.
Sometimes you just have to catch your breath and call a friend. Sometimes you have to wait for the weather to clear. Sometimes you can just pull yourself up and keep going. It all depends on you and how you deal with it.
Each one of us would handle being stuck in the woods differently. We would feel the pressure of leaving the woods. We would know we need to get out of there. But, we would either put pressure on ourselves or we would feel the pressure from the outside. Pressure to “just get over it” and “move on.”
Being lost in the woods is not the same as losing someone you love. The pressure to “just get over it” and “move on,” is a different kind of pressure. Of course you’re going to get yourself out of the woods! You aren’t interested in staying out in the rain all night! Who would be?
But getting up in the morning after losing a loved one? Not as easy as driving through the woods. You can’t just shift into gear and move forward. You know you have to get up eventually, but your frozen in grief. You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you can’t get dressed, you can’t even think about anything other than your lost loved one.
You are stuck in the woods and you’re out of gas! Your car has fallen apart and you don’t even have a coat on to keep you warm. Your cell phone has no signal and the battery is low anyway. You are miles away from home, you are miles away from your friends, your family, your life. The bridge has collapsed and there’s no going back no matter how much you want to. And you simply have to walk forward. But you can’t.
Telling your heartbroken friend to “just get over it” and “move on” is simply not helpful. YOU may be able to pull yourself up and walk out of the woods, but perhaps your friend, in the pit of despair simply can’t! Exerting pressure to go back to their life as though nothing happened is not fair to them, or to their loss.
In Ethiopia, there is a tradition called Edir for those in mourning and it is thought that every modern Ethiopian is a member of an Edir, either through neighborhoods, work or operating in age and gender communities. Members rally around the mourner. They make monthly financial contributions for the fund and the mourner is given a payment depending on their relationship to the deceased. The purpose of this payment is to help with funeral costs and other financial obligations in relation to the dead. The members comfort the mourner. The female members trade off household responsibilities, like food preparation, laundry, or other household chores. Male members are responsible for funeral perpetration and building a tent for the mourning family to receive visitors in. These Edir members are required to stay close to the family for at least three full days.
In areas of Mexico, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, and Spain, widows will wear traditional black mourning garments (veil included) for the rest of their lives. Immediate family members will wear black for an extended period of time to make the community aware they are in mourning. In some areas where this is practiced, the mourning period lasts for two years. In the United Kingdom, this practice lasted four years and for a widow to change her clothes before the four years was over was considered disrespectful to the deceased. There were certain stages of mourning as well. At “half mourning” colors such as gray and lavender were introduced to the tradition. Friends, family and co-workers showed mourning to greater or lesser degrees depending on their relationship to the deceased. Mourning for siblings lasted six months. For parents in mourning it lasted as long as they felt disposed.
Over time, these traditions in Europe and the UK have relaxed and are no longer practiced on such a large scale, if at all.
In Orthodox Christianity, mourning is observed for an extended period of time as well. Sometimes, men in mourning will not shave for 40 days.
There is a trend here: mourning and grief does not just magically disappear. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes a lot of love and a lot of caring.
What heartbreak and mourning don’t need is pressure to “just get over it” and “move on” because they can’t. At least not right now.
This post has been submitted to January 2014 NaBloPoMo. NaBloPoMo is a month-long challenge to post once a day on your blog, hosted by Blogher. Each month has its own theme. January’s theme is “pressure.”