To Grieve Publicly

by Lori Dwyer on May 24, 2012 · 12 comments

Some people, we choose to grieve publicly.

There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, no right or wrong that dictates who is allowed to grieve for whom in the grand scheme of things. Often people in mourning, especially in those first fresh few weeks, are held up to speculation and exposed to countless judgements– are they grieving ‘properly’, is whatever they’re doing ‘healthy’, are they ‘stable’.

There is no correct way to grieve. No one in the depths of grief is particularly stable, and actions don’t have much forethought… When it’s one foot in front of the other, the struggle is doing anything at all, not assessing it through the filter of societal norms to decide if the behavior is acceptable or not.

I’ve said, many time in the past, that initially I didn’t so much make a conscious choice to blog my way through what happened… I just wrote out of instinct, because it was all I could do, the only constant I had left in a life that had been thrown completely off it’s orbit. But eventually, when the water got hot… I had to make a conscious choice, whether to continue to mourn my husband in the eyes of thousands of people online…. or to stop.

And I made the conscious choice to keep going. To bleed, to grieve, to cry, to keen, all in public, in the shade of a million eyes, some brimming with compassion… others disgusted.

I know there are many people who find this blog distasteful. That’s OK– to be honest, sometimes I question my own sense of sanity with what I publish here. And I’m OK with it… I see the good it does every time I open another message or an email or a comment saying thank you. And, in the ultimate act of selfishness– this web page is my therapy, where I write out my pain. If it ceased being useful to me, I would stop writing it, and maybe not look back.

Back in the Blissful, Purple Before; even before I started blogging, I was a member of a parenting forum. One gorgeous woman was excited and hopeful one day, her pregnancy ticker counting up and up and currently at around 36 weeks…. and the next time I logged on, there was of thread posted by her, announcing her son’s name (Ianto), his birth date… and the aching fact that her little boy had been stillborn (but born, still).

My heart broke for her, in the way it used to back then… I had no measure for her pain, I just knew it must be awful.

And I watched in fascination as she took that pain and held it close… and, at the same time, flung it out into the world.

With assistance from a friend of ours, she created a blog in memory of her baby boy, and wrote out her pain, her love, her longing for her child. She published the beautiful photos that had been taken of her tiny, still little man. She created a memorial for him that took my breath away with it’s raw honesty, it’s amazing way of casting a rainbow on a tragedy so filled with pain it seemed to suck the colour from the very air around it.

Without meaning to, I emulated her and her noble, public grieving. I took my own pain and flung it across the interwebs to be felt by thousands. And it’s not a decision I regret– how can I, when I have no concept of how the alternative, to grieve quietly and silently, would feel?

As I said, there is no right or wrong way to do this. While I love people who are rawly honest, who speak their truth loudly and unflinchingly; it’s not that I think grieving quietly is a disservice to anyone. It’s just my hope that no one ever ever feels forced into silence… that if they wish to speak of their grief, they can, and they do; without worrying about the reactions of people who have been raised in a culture that is inherently uncomfortable both with death and with any expression of untempered emotion.

I watched, and blogged, Kristie’s amazing speech at DPCon12; listened of her scream her son’s name in the agony it was felt every time she whispered it. I remember discussing with my shrink, in the aftermath of Tony’s funeral, how women in some cultures are expected to wail and moan over the coffin of their loved new, to beat their chests and pull at their hair.

Had I have tried that, I may have been locked up. Small minded people with nothing better to do still discuss my behavior at my husbands funeral, how strange it was… but what’s normal, when you’re saying goodby to the love of your life for the very last time?

Click through for source.

One of my blog readers pointed me toward these pictures a while back now. They show the dignified Mrs Nancy Reagan fare welling her husbands coffin… there is so much beauty in them. She holds on to that wood as if it is her man, as if the coolness is his skin pressing her cheek one final time. There is a part of me that envy’s the woman in these photos, part of me that wishes I had done the same… broke the numbness, felt some kind of passion. I remember approaching the dark box that held my husband for the last time. Laying a rose on it. Feeling a surreal pulse beat in my mind… his body is in there. And all I could think was what I had dressed him in. And tried not imagine his body, stiff and cold and grey, stitched in places where organs had been removed.

When it comes down to it… maybe I’m less of of physical mourner. More of a written one. (An email months ago now from a friend, describing the heart wrenching death of her son… “That was the first time I’ve written it down” she says, and that’s such an alien concept to me I don’t even know where to begin with understanding it).

We all grieve differently. We’re uncomfortable with it, in our society, and I see the unfortunate effects of that in my everyday life. But I do wonder if, in those other cultures where highly verbal and psychical grief is required, do people who would rather grieve quietly, embalm themselves silently in salt… do they feel out of place, pressured to mourn in a way they provides no relief?

Probably. Possibly. The deck is always stacked, no matter which way you look it at. But there is no correct way to do this… being in pain, visible or otherwise; it’s always going to make someone uncomfortable. That’s inevitable, and, truly, off the scale of consideration when you’ve lost someone you love.

There’s just that deep, black grief… and getting through it. Any damn way you can.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

beccy October 8, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Hi, I am really impressed by your blog. I am yet to lose someone close to me but I think about what it must be like quite a lot. I think that one of western culture's biggest shortcomings is our lack of protocol/tradition for grieving. Not that people should necessarily follow a protocol, but I wonder if the cultures that do have an understood way of grieving and mourning have an easier time with it. When I see the women and men on television wailing in the streets for their dead beloveds in "other countries" I feel sort of envious that it's normal for them to do that. It must feel good, in a way. Like screaming when you are giving birth (if you need to scream). Anyway a friend of mine who lost both her parents in her early 20s (one to suicide, one to cancer) made this website about grief and I think it is quite beautiful.


whatkatedidnext May 25, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Yep, you said it. Thanks Lori.


Dorothy Krajewski May 25, 2012 at 9:27 am

I wish our society was more open to public mourning. In some way, grieving in public validates our pain, our loss.

I grieved by writing, too. I still do. When the wounds were fresh, I broke down in tears a few times, in public. I know it made others uncomfortable. I'm glad there were a few that had the sense to put their arm around me and tell me it was going to be OK.

Now I'm crying, because it still feels like nobody really understands what I've been trough. I am meant to get on with my life. And I do. But deep inside, the grief lurks and pops up in the most unexpected moments. Like now.

Much love to you, Lori.


mml May 25, 2012 at 1:56 am

Thank you for being so honest. My fiance was killed last year and I NEED to be open with my grief, it eats me alive otherwise. But I find little support in my openness. It helps so much, even though I don't know you, to read your posts and feel like I'm not alone, that I'm not crazy, that other people feel this way too. (((hugs)))


Hope’s Mama May 24, 2012 at 9:02 pm

I grieved openly and loudly and to some, obnoxiously. And I lost friends. And I don't care. There was no rule book. I just did what felt right, and took things as they came.
Nearly four years on from the bomb that went off in my life, I'm ok. I'm not not stuck in the pit I once was, but I still walk with a bit of a limp. I'm forever changed, and that's ok, because she mattered.


Melissa May 24, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Another amazing and inspiring post Lori. I agree with you 100% there is no "right" way to grieve. In fact, I think there's no "right" way to do much of anything. We all find our own way, but in today's culture, we're bombarded by messages of "right" and "wrong". It's so harmful.


Debyl1 May 24, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Im grieving the loss of my mum already and she hasnt died yet but slowly drifting away from us as her mind and body deteriorate.Does that make me strange.I dont know.People keep telling me well she has had a good long life and this is to be expected,as though that is supposed to make my grief evaporate like it is meaningless.Your grief is your grief and people need to respect that.


dachlostar May 24, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Ianto has a little sister now :)


Anonymous May 24, 2012 at 3:17 pm

My way of mourning ? I slept with his jumper draped over a pillow and imagined it was him. I sniffed his clothes endlessly, and I wrote in a long, pain-filled diary I have still kept


Hi, I’m Shannon, May 24, 2012 at 11:18 am

I admire your honesty in your posts Lori . Writing can be a great source of healing and getting things off your chest. People choose if they want to read it. If they don't agree then they should just find something else to read.


Anonymous May 24, 2012 at 9:56 am

So fucking sad, man.


Eccles May 24, 2012 at 3:07 pm

How we grieve, how we are perceived to grieve, how long we grieve… it's up to those of who are grieving. I was told last week by my daughter that I should be over my grieving by now – I found my sister so many minutes after she had died, I saw my father short minutes after he had died… (no-one is yet to acknowledge my shock in fnding my sister. My Dad's passing was unexpectedly expected). At my sister's funeral, in front of some 100+ people, I walked up to her coffin and hugged it. I laid a kiss upon the top of it… much like Mrs Reagan, yet not. You are the only person I've told that to. Perhaps because you are the only person who will/can inderstand!
Now I am told that I should be over it??!! We have spoken of our grief, you & I, Lori; I'm with you. For as long as it takes, for as loudly, as quietly, as privately or publicly – we grieve and some days we will cope better than others.
It is what it is and we will do what we do. For those people who cannot cope or understand us, it is their problem to deal with, not ours. We have enough.
Head up my dear friend, if I may call you that. It is a sad fact that in our part of the world we need people like to you to give so many of us permission to "keen", to show that grief and death are not taboo subjects that are to be hidden away in the darkness of night. That there is nothing to fear in death, in grieving. You have taught me that.
Thank you for all that you do and all that you have done. I am proud and honoured to know you!!


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