Coping with Grief and Loss

Anne Mason and Thea Mason

Grief can seem indescribably unbearable. But it gets easier, we promise. And it can transform and give birth to something positive––and widen, deepen and enrich our capacity and wisdom as we move through life.

Sisters Anne Mason and Thea Mason speak from experience.

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:                           00:00                Okay, we’re recording. Okay. So we’re going to talk about grief today. And to inform anyone listening. Thea and I both, and our sisters, lost both of our parents at the end of 2002 after they both suffered pretty horrific, devastating brain injuries and illnesses. Our mother from brain cancer at the young age of 52, and our father from a brain injury following other health problems at the age of 62. So that was pretty intense as anyone can imagine. Tt was not just the loss, but also the years leading to the loss and how excruciating that was to witness.

Thea:                            01:07                And the 11 days apart, you know, and the, the compact “pow” of the loss.

Anne:                           01:10                Yeah. It was. And, you know, I was Mom’s primary caretaker. She was not remarried. Thea, she already had a family. So she also had a young child and she was flying back, taking care of things as well. Then my dad’s secondary caretaker. So it was just, it was so intense, right? As anyone who’s gone through loss understands. And so we’ve been talking about this and I’ll post a link to the article too that by chance I discovered––there was an article I had written really not long after they died, but then I kind of held onto it and submitted it for publication a few years later. So it was published about a decade ago and it was just recently republished this year. So the first thing I think we would like to talk about is to acknowledge for anyone who is suffering and in grief grieving, going through the grieving process, that we get it so much and that it is an experience that one cannot really convey or describe really, unless you’ve stepped through that door. And we’re aware of the fact that the world does not see or acknowledge what you are going through as you are walking through your day to day life, trying to just cope with an unbearable, indescribable pain. You know, I mean, it makes me want to cry when I’m––I don’t know why I’m in touch with it recently. And that is the weird thing about grief, it is always there, but it gets much more manageable and it transforms and there’s a beauty. There is as much beauty to the pain as there is the pain, I think over time, you know? And so yeah, you know, a couple of friends of mine have just suffered very close losses. So that’s been a topic we were just talking about.

Anne:                           03:44                Ricky Gervais’ After Life––it’s a new Netflix series and it’s remarkable. It’s extraordinary. His comprehension, his understanding of grief and his ability to portray it. It’s very good. I highly recommend it. So, I think what we want to talk about a little bit right now is, and let’s look at our time. As we had been talking about even in last week’s conversation, which we entitled Responding to Change and many other of our conversations have been kind of in keeping with this theme of our responses to what life presents, right, and how impactful it is. How our response to what comes obviously significantly influences our life’s experience. And others’, you know, in this case with grief, others’ response to what we are going through is also impactful. And that article I wrote about touched on how the lack of our society’s observance of grief, of what people are going through. There is as I had written in the article, there’s a short period of time where your loss is formally acknowledged, but maybe it’s our busy world, our busy society, our busy everyday hectic pace. I’m not sure what it is. I also think there’s something unhealthy in the way we cope. I think there is some times a sense of putting on a face. I think there’s a sense of kind of faking it––that we, that we should, you know, just appear as if things are okay.

Thea:                            06:10                If it doesn’t interrupt your thought too much, I think there’s something that I’m seeing when we’re articulating it is––your article says so eloquently really how you’re given this space and time, brief period of time where it’s acknowledged and then it kind of just slips away, but you’re still holding it. And that’s really the time where the burden gets heavier. And because the shock, depending on what grief stages or how it comes to someone, you know, ours was, I can speak from that experience. That was, it was just so intense. And, and because it was so intense for us, I felt like, you know, everything was blown apart, all of our reality in a certain way. So, so taking us to our knees that the only thing that could come through was grace. Like it carried us through the horrificness of it in a way. And then after the shocking part sort of starts to wear off, that’s when the new stages of that grief start to come in, in a more thunderous way in a sense. And what I’m seeing in this though is like, different cultures have different observances. You know, maybe you wear black for a year or whatever it is because it really does take that length of time. And our culture–we don’t do that so much in any real way.

Thea:                            07:48                But what I’m seeing is that we have the observance for this short period, and then you have the funeral or the celebration of life or whatever it is, but it’s like boom, boom, boom. And it’s like the meaning again is getting lost and it’s the image rather than the essence. Even the advice that you’re given through grief counselors to not make any big changes, which you speak to really well in the article, but it’s again, it’s like it gets lost. The words, the meaning, the intent, the impulse that’s sound gets distorted. And then it’s like you’re standing in nothingness.

Anne:                           08:31                It’s, you know I remember how I worded it and I don’t want to repeat exactly how I worded it, but basically it’s cautioning us, right? To not be reactive. To not be reactionary, maybe is a better way of putting it. But in so doing, it’s kind of throwing the baby out with the bath water. So yes, we should not, it’s helpful in life to not react impulsively without thought, without care. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respond. Right? And that we shouldn’t act upon the process that we’re going through that we shouldn’t act upon some of the instincts or the awarenesses or changes that it’s bringing up in us. Right? So that’s one thing I think that it goes hand in hand with the way the culture observes our loss as well. It’s true that we have to get on with it. Right? And, you know, I remember in the midst of it, and I have since kind of lamented how challenging it is with a death. So the person who’s been caretaking experiencing incredible loss after they’re already exhausted from the caretaking, and then they’ve got to do all this other stuff after the death, all the legal stuff, all of the you know, the estate situation.

Thea:                            10:21                The business part.

Anne:                           10:26                The business of it. But, there is also something necessary in that because it keeps you moving, you know, and there is a tethering there, as unpleasant as it is, so that you don’t kind of go off the deep end. Not to say that one doesn’t at times go off the deep end. And I would say I, you know, those first couple of years were almost debilitating. Right? I mean, it was just, you know, I drank a lot, you know, and I sheltered myself a lot. I did go through the motions and I did what I absolutely had to do. But other than that, you know, it was, it was rough as you know.

Thea:                            11:16                And I know that too. You know, I think so much of the way grief comes to us or what we’re given through it–– knowing that I had a child to take care of, it minimized the spaces I could even go into. So they kind of came in a softer current over years because I had a living proof purpose that I had to keep going for. Right? And that changes things.

Anne:                           11:46                Yeah. Totally. You couldn’t, you couldn’t fall down. Right? And so that also means that probably it may have lingered longer. Your process may have just been elongated you know, but who’s to say? Right? Cause it’s still, I mean, there are still times, once in a great while, I will like, I’ll weep. Right?

Thea:                            12:11                I know. Yeah.

Anne:                           12:11                But also you know, on the flip side, for anyone going through it, God, I mean, as devastating and difficult as it’s been, I’m grateful to them for the gift that they gave us in that. I would not be who I am. I would not be the mother I am. I would not be…There’s so much that it deepened in our experience, right, to have gone through that. So there’s some good stuff that comes from it, you know, with all of life’s, you know I mean it’s cliche again, but the deeper the suffering, the deeper the experience, the deeper the wisdom I think.

Thea:                            13:13                Right. And that goes, we spoke just for a moment beforehand is like, yeah, as, we love more, as we grieve more and feel the depths and breadths, and all the angles and spaces of feeling––I mean these are the things that make us really human. It allows, I mean, I feel for myself, it’s allowed me to become a bigger person, more able to meet more people where they are. The more experiences I have, the wisdom, right? The more that there is a reflection within me to another, the more we share, the more we connect, the more we serve our purpose being here on Earth.

Anne:                           14:00                Oh gosh. And it reminds me of a comment a friend made on my Facebook page when I had just posted that this article got republished. And she had lost her mom. And she said, you know, it makes one aware, it’s a reminder that we don’t ever know what anyone else is going through as they’re walking through. Right? And so when you’ve gone through this yourself, it brings an awareness to you always that there are many layers there in everyone. It brings a compassion to I think one’s interactions with everyone and any one, because you start to reveal or you start to realize that so much more may be happening, has happened. You have not walked in their shoes. And that we really, this life, there are few that escape, you know, sorrow and pain in this life. And so just that awareness and compassion brings such a dimension to our relationships, our regard for people and the world really.

Thea:                            15:19                Because within sorrow, I mean, I want to say healthy sorrow, because there’s tragedy that is like, there feels like a wrongness in, you know, an injustice. But there’s, when there’s the healthy sorrow, I feel like within that is a real big seed of what’s beautiful. You know, it brings us to that which is––beauty, you know, love.

Anne:                           15:50                It’s a sweet sorrow. It’s a sweet sorrow. And it’s like having gone through that experience, going through this kind of experience and similar experiences, it definitely, like, it reveals that layer to existence. And we probably should start looking to wrap it up soon, and I’ll only touch on this now, but I mean, beyond the deepening, I mean, it’s, you know, I discovered my faith through that process too. And when I say that, I’m not saying a particular, an organized religion or denomination or, you know, and as I’ve said to people who I’ve gotten into discussions about this with, it’s like I feel that it’s much larger than any one particular organized set of beliefs, but a kind of you know, an all encompassing understanding connection to my source, connection to the divine, connection to other realms. And it’s, you know, it’s been a gradual process for me really since the deaths of my parents. And it’s been an organic, beautiful thing too. And one that feels very experiential. I remember a friend of mine who a German friend of mine who, who lives here in California where it’s really, people don’t talk a lot about God and faith here, in the Bay area, we’re in the Bay area. There’s almost a disdain for that. Right? And he had remarked that it has really struck him how I didn’t, I don’t have this from having been raised in it, you know, ’cause we were raised kind of half assed Catholic…

Thea:                            18:07                But I would say my experience was there was a sense of intelligence and divinity, the acknowledgement of God in our life even though it wasn’t through any direct channel or picture. But that picture that there is, there’s meaning and purpose and God.

Anne:                           18:33                Yeah. An understanding of there being more than we are seeing. Yeah. Right. More than is visible. I agree. But, he was remarking that, you know, that it came to me through experience in this way as opposed to where it’s come through for him and through practice. But anyway, you know, I won’t get off on a tangent, but there’s something so beautifully rich in the experience. Go ahead.

Thea:                            19:09                Well, I want to say, I don’t think it’s quite a tangent, but I think it will be a thread to come back to that we explore a little bit more because I want to reiterate again in our dialogues that we’re sharing together here. These are our reflections from our experiences and our understanding of those experiences and the way we then choose to engage with our life and the world and the people in our lives. And it’s not so much about is someone testing, has this been proven? This is through our own experience, which I think, what I want to wrap it into a little bit is––losing, having our parents move on at our young age, which felt very young at the time I think removed, I think I said this, I remember feeling it when, when it was going on, just that when they were gone, there was no longer any image of a guidance or you know, mother, father, between myself and God. So my relationship to whatever I call God, source, whatever, became even more clear and tangible for me because there was nothing in between it. I didn’t have anything separating it. And I think what that has brought to me through my own journey and you, is what I perceive is a gift and for me to do something with. So it’s, it’s like, it’s allowed me to develop that capacity more and more and more to listen to myself, to listen to what I Intuit or instinctively respond to. You know, trusting oneself because knowing oneself is more than just me. Like that there’s wisdom that moves through and shows itself to me through my experiences. So, yeah.

Anne:                           21:14                Absolutely. Thanks for making that distinction. Thanks for making that distinction. Yeah. It’s, once again, it’s you know, I’d made this comment recently, but there is some knowledge, there is, there is information that sometimes cannot be transferred through language or books or teaching, but only through experience. Right? It’s when the veil drops, you know, or when we walk through a door. So anyway, it’s an exclusive club. So anyone who has experienced it, welcome to it and promise it gets better and there’s so much richness to the experience that one can be in and does become quite grateful for. And we’ll probably touch on this more next time.

Thea:                            22:09                I think we should. And I just, there’s one more thing now I have to say that as you say that there’s more richness. I feel a little bit like it is that experience, because at first through it, things become more dull and it’s kind of like you’re going into a cocoon a bit and the veils wrap around you. And then when you pull yourself back through that, the world is more vibrant again. It changes. But you do go through a darkness.

Anne:                           22:40                You do, you do. And so do not expect all of a sudden, “Oh you know…” There is a deadening and a darkness to it at first, but you have to go through that to come out to a brighter light.

Thea:                            22:54                Yeah. Well thank you so much. I look forward to us talking more about it ’cause there’s so, so many other spaces within it for us to, you know, think about it as the culture of how to alter and change and support or develop new ways or old ways to honor the grieving process when each individual goes through it. So it can be a transformative space that’s recognized and really honored.

Anne:                           23:26                Yes, I agree. All right, we’ll think on that.

Thea:                            23:30                Thank you.

Anne:                           23:31                All right, one sec. Bye.

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