Stephanie Red Feather
Shadow Speak
The (Unacceptable)
Stages Of Grief

Grief Is A WoundWe all grieve. And grief is not relegated to the realm of physical death. Any kind of major loss can plunge us into that spinning place of pandemonium where life seems to be defined by confusion, despair, panic, anger, exhaustion and utter hopelessness. In that chaos, we try to make sense of what happened, do our best to continue living our life, tending to our responsibilities, and figuring out how in the world to move on.

Except, the world hasn't made room for our grieving.

Adding insult to injury, we can't even honestly express and move through our feelings (which of course stunts them and prolongs the grieving process) for fear of being labeled weak, depressed, fragile, unproductive and soft. We fear disappointing our bosses. We fear making others uncomfortable. We fear burdening others in those moments when it is just too much effort to even make a meal for ourselves or put a load of laundry in the machine.

The feminine is the part of us that knows inherently when it is time to rest, be still and cry. To feel the feelings and to go within. She has an innate understanding of the natural timings that are a part of nature. She knows the importance of honoring the endings and beginnings of things.

In our society, a huge amount of our grieving process has gone underground (into the shadow) because of the unrealistic expectations that have developed over time through the dominance of the patriarchy. What began as external messages we have now taken inside and demand the same of ourselves.

Let me explain.

Our society is built on highly masculine values. Any study of masculine vs. feminine qualities will reveal that the masculine principle is about action. Practicality, competition, logic, hard work, driving oneself and being results-oriented are all masculine tenets. Great importance is placed on what you accomplish, produce or gain. Tangible results. Evidence of your efforts. Making progress at all costs.

In and of itself, these qualities are not necessarily bad. All qualities have a healthy expression and an unhealthy expression. What has happened in our society is that we've gotten way out of balance in our acceptance and practice that BOTH sets of qualities — the masculine and the feminine — are equally valuable and necessary.

Consequently, the masculine qualities have dominated and progressed unchecked, moving ever deeper into the unhealthy end of the spectrum.

Meanwhile, the feminine qualities of intuition, cooperation, compassion, nurturing, allowing, sensitivity and honoring natural rhythms and cycles have been laughed off. Deemed unnecessary and unessential. These qualities are valued by few. A growing few, yes, but still heavily in the minority.

So when it comes to our grieving, the message we receive is basically this: "You can take a couple of days off of work and cry for a few days, then after that you better be back to your full strength and productiveness. Every month or two for 5 or 10 seconds, you can wax emotional and get a little misty at the memory of whatever it was you lost. But then you have to snap back out of it and act like nothing happened."

When my father died in September of 2013, my boss (I was working full time then) knew my father was dying, so it wasn't a surprise. I went to spend four short days with my family (two of them a Saturday and Sunday) and, while there, desperately wanted just one more day before coming back to Kansas City. So I called my boss to ask for one more day off to be with family. I was met with guilting, cloaked in what would seem loving and complementary language.

Grief is not a light switchInstead of being told, "You take all the time you need. We've got your back," I was told, among other things, "We need you." I suppose that's a nice complement, but disguised within it I felt the clear unspoken, "How dare you take one more day. I need you here being productive, taking the pressure off of me, and helping me run this company and make money."

When I came back, in my first staff meeting I told my co-workers and subordinates that I don't intend to hide my emotions. That I can be here while both grieving AND being productive. I don't want anyone to walk on eggshells around me or be afraid to bring difficult problems to me to solve. I told them there may be times that I cry. I'm not going to hide it. I don't want them to be afraid of it or uncomfortable. I am still here for them and will let them know if I need a minute or if there is something I can't do.

I like to think that I was shifting the culture by giving MYSELF permission to feel my feelings and not wear a mask. And to speak to my grief instead of stuffing it down — everyone pretending it didn't happen and going on our merry way of corporate productivity. Be the change we wish to see in the world, said Gandhi.

The feminine is the part of us that knows inherently when it is time to rest, be still and cry. To feel the feelings and to go within. She has an innate understanding of the natural timings that are a part of nature. She knows the importance of honoring the endings and beginnings of things. Of marking rites of passage. She knows when it is time to be in action and when it is time to just be.

Yet when we choose to act upon this feminine wisdom, we are met with judgment, resistance, condescension and even disdain. The patriarchy scoffs and says, "Quit your crying and get back to work."

Do you recognize that voice in your head? I sure do.

So this is the challenge. Can you reclaim for yourself the blessings in openly grieving? Can you say no to social engagements when needed? Can you ask for support (yes, even making food and doing your laundry) when you need it? Can you cry when you want to cry? Can you turn off the TV and the phone and sit with the quiet and just let yourself stare out the window? Can you ask your boss for the time off you need, not the time off you think s/he'll give you?

And remember, we're not just talking about honoring yourself when a loved one dies. Grieving happens with many forms of loss, including the loss of a job or income, the end of a relationship or divorce, incarceration, the onset of a disease or chronic illness, the death of a beloved animal, a diagnosis of infertility, psychic death (dying to old ways of being) and so much more. These are often even more difficult to grieve because people don't tend to challenge you as much with death, but some of these other grieving processes can be seen as trivial or dismissed and minimized with the overused "We all have problems."

Can you allow yourself to heed the wisdom of your soul and express the natural cycles of your grief?

At these times I begin to understand and appreciate the cultures that had physical symbols for their grieving, such as wearing black or wearing a veil. It would almost seem easier so we don't have to feel compelled to constantly explain ourselves. It's a sad commentary that the explaining (which usually ends up as defending) has to happen in the first place.

But, if we are going to bring the masculine and feminine values back into balance, it begins with us. If we are going to reclaim that which we know is best for us in getting over loss and not some artificial construct created by society, it begins with us. We teach people how to treat us. Can you be a leader in your life and reclaim from the shadows the unacceptable stages of grief?

Can we turn the tables and make it unacceptable NOT to let people grieve their losses?

Suggested activities:

1. Chances are, there's something you are grieving that you aren't even aware of. Give yourself some time to journal and make a list of the types of loss you have experienced recently. Go back as far as you feel lead - two years, five years, 10 years. As you read each item on the list, close your eyes, take a deep breath, place your hand over your heart and allow yourself to feel if there is unexpressed grief in your system that needs to be released.

2. Give yourself the time to grieve! When you feel the grief come up, let it move out of you. It doesn't matter if the sadness is 40 years old or two days. We grieve over time, especially the losses that were highly significant. I got divorced 10 years ago and still grieve the loss of my ex-husband and his family. Make a commitment to yourself that from this moment forward you will acknowledge your grief when it comes up and let it express itself. That also includes giving yourself the downtime you need to stare out the window and drool, as I call it, where you have no obligations or commitments.

3. If grief comes up in a moment when you can't express it (we all have practical life to deal with: job, family engagements, kids to put to bed, etc.) then take a few moments to acknowledge it is there. Then, make an agreement with yourself about what you will do to give yourself the opportunity to express it. For example, you're at work. You stop for a moment, take a breath and tell yourself, "I feel you grief. I honor you. I will give you time to express tonight after dinner. I will sit with my journal, write about my grief and let myself cry." Or, it's the weekend and you have a giant to-do list and Saturday morning you wake up with sadness in your heart. All you really want to do is sit by a river, read a book, or go for a long slow walk. Honor the downtime that your spirit is asking for. Take a look at your task list and negotiate with yourself what has to be done and what can be put off.

4. Look at how you live your life and have treated others who have been grieving. What are your own beliefs and values around honoring people who have experienced loss (don't forget to include how you treat yourself)? Is there anyone you need to make amends to? If you are in a position of leadership (even with your own family), what can you do to cultivate a climate of acceptance, compassion and free expression of emotions? What can you do to honor the feminine knowingness of when you need to slow down, rest, go within or cry?

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