When the wedding comes at the wrong time
The fiction is me reading Being Mrs. Alcott, by Nancy Geary. Here the bride returns from her honeymoon to find that her mother has one week to live. Ill before the wedding, mother doesn't want to upset her daughter with the bad news, a late diagnosis, breast cancer, irreversible for the times.
So it's a novel, and I may or may not finish it, but it stopped me in my tracks, that scene, Grace at twenty-one, sitting in the library in her mother's favorite damask wing chair, opposite the perfect Chippendale sofa, the silver candlesticks on the mantel and an oil seascape framed in gold, her brother drinking too much, her father taking it in. Lost.
Grace is newly married and now in mourning, the mourning of the stoic, which means, it's not necessary to feel too bad for too long, and it must be private. I'm not at all sure how it will all turn out, but this does happen quite a bit, untimely death. There's no good time for dying. The issue, of course, is whether or not Grace's mother should have told her sooner, before the wedding, before the honeymoon.
No issue, really. She should have been told right away, especially with what is thought to be a terminal diagnosis. But no, the family chose otherwise, not giving her the credit that she might be good knowing she'll spend the rest of the novel with Bain, that missing that first year as definitively happy, could be okay.
A person can hope, going into marriage, to live and enjoy (or not) a new life for years to come, and might expect that a few weeks and months of sadness in the beginning won't change that. Functional marriage, and that's truly the operant phrase here, is made to last a lifetime.
And now she sits in her mother's chair resenting that she's missed the last month of her mother's life. All to have fun on a honeymoon, as if this is so necessary, having fun with someone you're intending to have fun with forever, or for however long forever will be.
How terrible, how wrong to have missed those precious few weeks with her mentor! Just thinking about it makes me want to throw the book at the wall, but it's not mine so I can't (thanks for sharing, Cham!).
This business of stoicism is something we haven't discussed, not nearly enough. Being tough in the face of loss is functional, it gets you through the funeral, but it doesn't always accomplish much, and we believe (we being the therapeutic community) that stoicism may even contribute to something we call unresolved grieving.
You have to grieve, people.
This comes up in therapy quite a bit.
If you don't grieve, if you don't celebrate a person's life with talk of memories and tears of sadness, then those pent up tears and thoughts and emotional voids clog the brain like cholesterol in the arteries. No, this isn't yet a scientific finding. It's a therapydoc finding. You don't have to believe it.
And don't take it from me. Froma Walsh wrote the book on the subject, Living Beyond Loss: Death in the Family. Quite an accomplishment, this book, about family grieving, although I read the first edition, and this is probably the fourth. Of course, Froma's a family therapist and recommends family grieving. Call your family members on the anniversaries of death, keep memories alive.
Unresolved grieving implies not having attended enough to the subject of loss. The idea is that failing to allow your psychology to integrate, file, or sort through thoughts, ideas, memories, and feelings, will interfere with the process of living. We have to integrate the experience of loss into our psyche. If we don't, we respond abnormally, inexplicably, to events that shouldn't have to be so hard.
For example, if I haven't grieved someone close to me, upon hearing about the death of someone only peripherally related to me whom I hardly know, I might decompensate, burst into tears. Or maybe if FD said he wanted to go fishing with his brother for a couple of days, the thought of such a benign abandonment would make me ill. I'd irrationally argue with him. A younger person who hasn't resolved loss might become very emotionally vulnerable when a child leaves home for summer camp. Or even kindergarten.
It pops up, grief, in unexpected places.
What we're also talking about here, besides grieving after a death, which is so important, is taking the time to be with people who are very ill, who may be dying, even when planning something that's supposed to be happy, like a wedding. It can happen fast, you know. We may not be afforded the time. It's not always clear when people are going to leave us. It's often a shock, often an accident or a random event.
Still, you try to take a year to cry about it, if it's after the fact. And if you're given a heads up, you attend to a terminally ill person before physical loss happens, given the chance, if it's someone you love. You take the time to feel terrible. You have to expect that you will, too, and not be surprised.
And of course, when illness has lingered on for years, having grieved during that era, you may not grieve upon death.
But not every culture agrees with this, the idea of openly expressing, talking about grief, and it's true that you have to do this judiciously. You can't just dump your feelings on others. They have feelings, too.
Assume, however, that you're lucky enough to have people who care about you, who want you to share your feelings. If you've grown up in a family that frowns upon the direct expression of sadness, especially a public display of sadness or any emotion but happy, you may not be able to do it. If you are of this cloth and try to repress grief for either your sake or the sake of everyone else (we don't want to bum anyone out), then you think, indeed, I don't have to feel this. You're likely to get away with it, too. You might very well not cry. If you're this kind of person, maybe you can't cry.
Like I said, it might bite you later. But some people are raised not to cry, not ever. Don't express feelings, it's weakness. Babies cry. Don't be a cry-baby.
We call this stoicism, being tough in the face of adversity, and for some of us it has nothing to do with death at all, death is merely one area in which we're stoic. And there are surely various degrees in various situations.
For example, I'm not a complainer, don't express strong dissatisfaction if I can avoid it, but I'm working on it, trying to complain more. Maybe being a therapist is responsible for this, always being on the listening end, always on the hunt for the hope, the uplift, or maybe it's the tough Eastern European roots. I'm told the personality suffers in this way, when this happens, when we're restricted. People like to hear us kvetch, and they want to cross-kvetch. They want to hear from us and moan back at us.
So stoicism is multi-dimensional, not an all or none for most of us. I'm grateful to have been taught that tears are a good thing (this is best taught in early childhood, but adolescents get tough, forget). Complaining, by the way, is not that hard to do once you get the knack of it. Yiddish is all about complaining and cursing, so you can always learn that if you're having trouble in either area.
See, there's stoicism, and there's stoicism. With tears and without. Perhaps a meta-message, cry privately, is quintessential stoicism. Many of us can't ever bury feelings entirely, especially not those of us with a wide-range. We find the very idea impossible. But people do. They try to do this, bury their feelings.
Personalities that are deliberately restricted won't express much sadness, anger or anxiety at all. They probably won't go postal, will never lose their temper either, which is a good thing. But they do tend to feel "crazy" when normal emotions bubble over, as if they're self-imploding when they feel anything too strongly. Stoics are at risk for drinking too much and gastro-intestinal disorders. They're probably hyper-secretors. We know stress is a factor in heart-disease, too, and know that expressing emotion reduces stress.
There are amazing stories about stuffing it, however. To stay on topic, when people are successful at not grieving they sometimes expect others to be that way, too. So, for example, individuals who can't empathize with people who have strong feelings, might expect that everyone can really enjoy that wedding that was planned months before, despite the recent death of a first degree relative.
This happens, people who have not yet buried a terminally ill parent, or worse, a recently lost parent, are expected, by an uncle or an aunt, to attend a dinner or a shower for a cousin who is getting married. Indeed, enjoying such an event should be virtually impossible, and inappropriate. Disrespectful, I feel, too, in some ways.
I don't think most of us are wired to be able to do this, enjoy anything soon after, or just before, the loss of a loved one.
There's no point even trying, really. I think if your mother just died and you plan to be married that you should not cancel, not even postpone the wedding if that's possible, but should go into the celebration seriously, thoughtful, less likely to tear the house down dancing. You can try to enjoy the idea that you will become united with your new spouse, and that your union will be a blessing, or a memory, or something good for the deceased.
In my religion we always invite our relatives who have passed away to the wedding. They would be insulted if we didn't and we're quite sure that they attend.
But dance, sing, let go? I should think one would have to be quite intoxicated to do that or in great denial, more likely the case. I don't know what the religious rules are (feel free to tell me), but I do know that death has an effect upon natural intoxication, too, substance-free intoxication, and it's not pretty. Grief puts a damper on our levity, as it should.
Of course the wedding goes on. Life is for the living. But I should think there's a respectful way, a way for us to avoid jumbling the emotions, one that separates happiness from loss, a way that says, I'm crying for her, and I'm crying for my beloved, too, that we must always remember our day this way. And it's not the end of the world.
Lots of people cry at weddings, you know.
copyright 2008, therapydoc