Allowing Grief

Anne Mason and Thea Mason

To support one who is grieving, simply allow them to be––to be a mess, to be demolished, to be in grief. And to not be the same person you knew them to be before the grief. Because they are not––and they never will be again. And if you are the one grieving, honor yourself and your loss by allowing that in yourself.

Grief “veterans” sisters Anne Mason and Thea Mason discuss.

Anne’s article describing her personal experience with loss and grief was written and published a few years after the death of their parents in 2002, 11 days apart. It was recently republished again this year in Grief Digest Magazine, entitled Responding to Life.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT BELOW:

Anne:                           00:01                Okay. So Thea and I are going to talk a little bit more about grief. We feel we’re still, we’re feeling that thread still of grief and we were just reflecting in a conversation we were just having on the fact that it’s probably partly the season. Our father had passed at the end of October and then our mother, 11––I never remember 11, 13 days later, whatever it was in the early November…

Thea:                            00:32                Eleven.

Anne:                           00:32                Eleven days. And one thing I wanted to qualify is that the reason that I think we’re talking about this as if we have a great deal of experience with kind of intense grief is that part of it was the experience of caretaking our parents from brain illness and injury over the course of some years. So it was very, very intense, you know, when people lose the brains, basically, that’s an intense process of caretaking. And then it happening when we were a lot younger.

Thea:                            01:20                It’s almost at 20 years, I mean we’re going toward 20 years now.

Anne:                           01:27                And then, and then happening within the space of two weeks. So that was just all intense, very intense and very magnified. So that’s partly why we are wanting to convey what helped. We were just reflecting on the fact that if it happened now, of course it would still be intense, but not as intense. So, we want to talk a little bit about what helped us during that time practically. And I was reflecting with Thea on the fact that one of the things I did during that, especially that first year after it all happened and I was going through the motions of life and work and dealing with the estate and all of these things, I started drinking cream in my coffee where I had drunk black coffee before that. But just to, to get out of bed and go to work, which was like, felt like it required sometimes superhuman capacity. I started drinking cream in my coffee. I started taking baths again. And I had lived in London, years before where everybody takes baths and I had gone back to taking showers here in the States. But I started taking baths, because it felt more nurturing. It was softer. It was gentler. I started doing yoga a little bit, and as Thea can vouch for, I’m not a yoga person, but I started doing yoga in the mornings. I had this funky VHS tape that I had inherited from Thea or something, and I would do this 20 minute yoga thing in the morning and it nurtured me. It helped me. I also look back on that time and realize, you know, I cocooned a lot and it’s kind of against my nature, to be so insular, you know, I’m pretty out there, but I was alone a lot. I wanted to be alone a lot. And I drank a lot. I wept a lot. I cried a lot. And, and I remember at the time, friends, people close to me, kind of trying to encourage me to get out of that, “Come on, you know, this isn’t you!” and being kind of at odds with that, like, “Oh, this is not me. What, what’s going on? What am I doing here? What am I doing?” And I wish I had had the sense that I knew best and the sense to just allow that process to happen without trying to force anything.

Thea:                            04:34                Well if I can chime in to that. This reminds me of the thought I had had when we were chatting a little bit ago was that it wasn’t you. And like we touched on last time, that there is that darkened space that we go into and we do–– allowing, allowing for that darkened space and time to occur like a cocoon. We do come out something else. We become something else. We develop, we grow, we change. But I just wanted to remark, because I don’t think I’ve thought of it this way before, was that when someone that we love and make connections with in this life leaves this world, the world is altered and therefore those that are closely tied to that person do truly change because they fill the space differently to be able to continue. And you know, when it is a connection that is like one of those of loved people in our lives, it does alter us and we do become something not ourselves while we’re in transformation. And I think even just stating that if that, if that knowledge was more apparent for those people who are supporting the grieving people that they will be different, and it’s not really a helpful thing to convey.

Thea:                            06:04                You’re not yourself. No shit, you know? You won’t be, you know, I will be picking up different threads of myself, but I’m weaving a new fabric. While I’m in this cocoon. You know, we are changing. So if there’s a little more intelligence about that process for people who are going through grief maybe or those that are going through it, our own knowledge that we’re going to be different and allowing for that without the guilt game of I’m not being myself for these people in my life. I don’t know if I’ve gone too far astray, but I think that’s what you’re speaking to. Wishing you had known that, you know best like listening to that inner voice again that is asking you to do something different, you know, is, is really valuable.

Anne:                           06:55                Yes, it’s definitely valuable. And it’s, and it’s good to talk to other people who have been through it as we did, you know, over time. I also went to a grief counselor. First time I had really done any therapy or any kind of thing like that, and it was helpful for sure, to have that validated. I think that’s an important thing to point out to others too though, who are there to try to, or those were trying to hold it for someone else. Trying to support someone who’s going through the grieving process. W.

Thea:                            07:33                Which is really a hard position.

Anne:                           07:36                It is. And I’ve read about this recently too, where people don’t know what to say. They don’t know what to do. People who have not been there really don’t know. And I think it’s important to just let those folks know that I think that all anyone is…You know, when you’re grieving that deeply. And one other thing I wanted to point out is like, you know, a friend had communicated recently about it, who had lost her son recently and that, as I said to her, I can’t even touch that, right? That’s, that’s many layers beyond. But what I can say is I, I just, you know, I just send you my love, you know, I give you my love and, and I grieve for you and with you, right? You know, you can say, I’m sorry for your loss or whatever, but you know, I always, I found all that platitudinal stuff kind of like, just, just be real. And just to know that that person, honor that person by allowing them to just be going through that phase that you’re describing, their transformation. They are not going to be what you know, they’re not going to be what you are used to, and they’re probably never going to be that again.

Thea:                            09:18                That’s huge.

Anne:                           09:20                So to, to accept that and encourage them in that rather than make them feel as if they’re doing something wrong. Right?

Thea:                            09:30                Right. Yeah. I think what you’re speaking to also, and I, you know, when I look back at people in my life when they’ve been going through their own grief and it’s like, you know, we don’t want to say “I’m sorry for your loss” while you are, is, depending on the nature of your relationship is a little bit like “I’m here and I can relate and I’m here.” But we can’t, there’s not much else. There’s not much else we can really offer.

Anne:                           10:02                Yeah, we can’t. That’s the thing. We can’t fix it. We can’t give them anything. We can just hold that space for them to just be and to be demolished too. We can hold the space for them to be demolished. To be all over the floor. To be a mess. Let them be a mess. You know? And that’s what you and I spoke about a little bit too. It’s like, you had used the word, I don’t think you said this in the video, but you said, there was a part of you that, because the fabric of reality had torn open…

Thea:                            10:42                Or altered.

Anne:                           10:42                Altered. There was a tear in it. (You Said), “It didn’t fit, it no longer fit. Your life didn’t quite fit anymore.” So that’s something that we become aware of more in any heightened state, I think.

Thea:                            11:03                Right. That you’re actually growing into a new way of being. When there has been an alteration to the reality you’ve been engaging with. So allowing for that growth and that shift and that discomfort. Kind of like if you have a new pair of shoes, they take a bit to wear into the shape of your foot, right? Or your, when you get used to a good pair of jeans. At first they didn’t feel so good, but that takes a little bit of time and then you fit them right and they, you fit them and they fit you. But it all takes a little discomfort for awhile.

Anne:                           11:43                Or more than that though I would say. I mean, I like your, your clothing analogy––as anyone knows, Thea’s style and her clothes and her relationship to clothes, it’s appropriate. For me on the other hand, like when we were talking about the mess and, and being demolished on the floor––I think also give yourself a break. And give anyone who’s going through this a break to, to really screw up too in a way. Like make some, make some big mistakes.

Thea:                            12:22                Which I think we all, we all did.

Anne:                           12:25                We all did, you know, and it was challenging and hard. But also it’s like we had to break some things. In order to then allow that new thing to form. We had to break it down. Say that again.

Thea:                            12:47                A new emergence, like of oneself. Out of it. To break down ideas that we had about ourselves that were held, I mean, in our situation, it being our parents, that’s a different dynamic than a friend or a lover or a child. So different things we had to break down to free ourselves even.

Anne:                           13:10                Yeah. I put it as, you know, we went a little crazy and that was okay. Because we only went so crazy. We kept things going, but we went a little crazy. And then we came back from the crazy.

Thea:                            13:32                The edges, I call it the edges. A little bit. Because we weren’t out of our heads, I mean, we weren’t disconnected with what we were doing. We were really pretty aware of the choices we were making in most of those moments. They were big but we, we pushed past our edges maybe that we had kept ourselves in before. And I, you know, I think what you said just about that, that initial time of intense grief, it’s like finding whatever it is that is some sort of ritual for you––cream in your coffee, baths, walks, talks, whatever––those little things that can hold so much power. Lighting a candle, you know, I mean, I’m just giving little things, making your, you know, whatever. I’m like thinking like my shoe rack, little things that I could make really neat and orderly that brought me joy because everything felt…

Anne:                           14:32                And tethering, right? It was a tethering, so whatever, you know, finding your little rituals of tethering. To tether you while you also are flailing at the same time through that.

Thea:                            14:48                And one more thing. I don’t know if this ties anything in, but I think there’s those, those pictures that when you’re sharing of your sort of cocooning, and I was saying a little bit of that spiraling inward because you tend to be more outward and I, I don’t think I’ve put this together quite yet until now. I tend to be a little more inward in many ways and I think in that period I was so busy teaching and practicing, I kind of did the opposite.

Anne:                           15:19                And parenting. Yeah, you did.

Thea:                            15:19                I went out a little bit more than I normally would be. So that’s curious. I don’t think I’d seen that until now.

Anne:                           15:30                Yeah, which pushed this other side of you like this, this other side of me. And brought us to the wholeness that we are now! I joke!

Thea:                            15:41                As we go through new challenges and edge pushing. My God.

Anne:                           15:49                Absolutely. Absolutely. As we’re, yeah. As we are both going through other changes, and we’ve also just reflected on the fact that having gone through that intensity in our earlier years and, and then becoming accustomed to cycles and cycles of grief does inform you to become accustomed to all cycles and that they do move and they’re waves, and it moves in and out. And if you just kind of tether yourself while you get through that, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Thea:                            16:23                Yeah. Thanks.

Anne:                           16:25                There we go. As nonlinear is all that was. Hopefully that’s, that’s something and something. And Happy holidays to all the grieving people out there, because I know this brings it up as it does the winter and all of that. Right? So, all right.

Thea:                            16:46                Absolutely. Take care.

Anne:                           16:47                You too. All right. Bye.

Thea:                            16:50                Bye.

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