Good Grief: Pink, Mourning, Morning

When I was a sophomore in college, now it was almost half a century ago! Wow! I had a room-mate named Gayle. She just happened to come to mind today. We were out for a drive as vacation was wrapping up. Gayle and I had known each other since childhood, our mothers were best friends when we were babies, some of the very few non-Jewish friends our family had. Gayle’s mom Jeni had probably a high school education if that, (another somewhat exception among my parents’ friends,) and Mom really loved her. Gayle was the oldest of seven kids. Somehow, we ended up sharing an apartment in college.  

Gayle was perhaps somewhat “new age,” at least compared to me, the self-schooled political radical, but we also were a quirky mismatched pair of  “bff’s.” One of the many things that Gayle taught me, if one of the few that I retained, I really retained. Gayle said, “Pink is the ‘love ray.’ It heals the heart.” For whatever reason, probably because I suffered from so much sadness, always, I took that one very much to heart, and it stayed with me. 

Many years, many twists and turns later, I found myself becoming a therapist. I did my requisite time in agencies, and one year (to the day!) at the V.A. (the US Veteran’s Administration,) I might add that every trauma therapist should put in at least one year at the V.A., certainly in the U.S, to not only learn about war trauma and the moral injury that comes with it, but also to learn about how that system operates. I won’t say more than that now. After paying those beginner’s dues, I went into private practice as soon as I could. Even though I was still pretty deep in student loan debt and post-student poverty. I really wanted to do what I wanted to do, and do it myself, like any well heeled (unhealed!) child of neglect. 

I rented my first office, I was still an intern, and I remembered Gayle’s words. I thought, pink kleenex!  Pink heals the heart, tears wept in my office would be wiped away with healing pink. So I began my practice of stocking only pink Kleenex in all my offices ever after. Whether or not anyone noticed, or experienced the healing effects of my specially selected Kleenex, I never knew, but I stayed committed. 

Well time passed, decades in fact, generations of pink Kleenex passed through my various offices, and Kleenex stopped making colored Kleenex. I don’t know if it was because it is not good for one’s health or for the environment or what, but my pink Kleenex became an endangered species. No longer available in regular stores, I began to buy it up by the case from Amazon, and watched the price go up, while it still lasted. By then I had a little trove stashed in my closet for the decades of future tears. Then even Amazon ran dry. Of course, I was all over the web, searching out and snapping up every stray box I could find. Then I hit Ebay, which has been my last holdout for the last five or so years. If I ever did find a stray, often banged up box, it was in the neighborhood of $30.00 apiece.  And some were ancient. (One box that I recently used up and threw away had 1976 printed on the bottom!) But I invested in them nonetheless.  And ultimately I hit rock bottom and my supply became finite. What I have left in the closet, which is not nothing, is what is left. I figure when that runs out, I will either have to start manufacturing it myself, or retire. Thankfully, since I got neurofeedback people do not cry as much. But I shall have to find new and additional ways to work with grief. This pink Kleenex story is no joke! If you don’t believe me, you can ask any of my clients of the last 35 years! 

Vertices 

 

Neglect involves rivers of grief, as does all trauma really. I talk often about what I call the “Bermuda Triangle,” the shipwreck-like maelstrom of warring emotions suffered by so many neglect survivors, the three vertices (points of the triangle) being anger, guilt and grief. It is another dilemma plaguing the survivor.  In my case, my parents were both so severely traumatized, that of course I felt endless grief for their histories of unimaginable suffering. My father especially never ever let us forget, and he most certainly had a corner on that market. He was one sad man. But it was undeniably heartbreaking, and I could certainly explain my own grief away, or try to, as being about his, and often it genuinely was. And  to me, grief was as familiar and perhaps in some way “comfortable” as an old shoe, however unbearable. 

The other two Bermuda vertices are the anger and rage which were certainly for me, admittedly undeniable, especially in my adolescent and teen years. I probably siphoned them off into political causes, and fierce activism, but had to admit to my rage at mostly my father, but both parents really. I hated the way they treated me and some of the things they did seemed unforgivable, at least until I made a study of forgiveness, which took many years.  

The third vertex is the guilt about the rage, for me because I admired them, and I pitied them, and no they never did healing work, but I had the privilege of having access to good help, in time at least, and the grace to want to seek it out. And the guilt invariably took me back around to the grief. Grief seems to prevail, especially in the years as parents with all their foibles, wind down and start the descent toward their demise, which requires some culmination of both the trauma and grief work. It is not simple. And I have seen many a neglect survivor client relive the worst of their neglect in their parents’ decline and demise. I know I did. My father barely knowing me anymore, barely registering my arrivals and departures to visit him in is final years, was chillingly reminiscent of my whole childhood with him. It brought mostly sadness, but no small measure of the other two. And plenty of use for my Kleenex! 

Mourning 

 

I also learned that another meaning for vertex is the highest point or apex, a summit or a mountain top. I like that idea. It is about reaching the top of something, whatever that might mean. Grief can be like a mountain we climb. We may never reach the apex or summit, but we may. We also used to think that the five stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance) were universal and fixed, that we all go through the same progression, and can complete them. We all dutifully learned the acronym DABDA for our licensing exams, at least in my day. And the norm was to reach acceptance, and what be done with it? And what if we don’t or we can’t? the deaths of trauma and neglect-begetting parents- (I use those garbled words to avoid saying trauma and neglect-perpetrating, but you knew what I meant,) present all these sorts of challenges and more. The work of grief is more complex and varied than a one size fits all.  And perhaps the summit will be something else. DABDA notwithstanding, I think the world is starting to catch on to that now. 

Traumatic grief is now a sub-category of trauma work and trauma healing. Moral injury is a more recently named perhaps sub-sub-category. It is the complicated tangle of emotions where the survivor either caused or unwittingly participated in trauma or death to another. Often the sufferers from moral injury are war veterans who killed, or medical personnel of some sort who either made mistakes or were unable to save a life. Or as happened a fair amount in the early  days of the COVID 19 Pandemic, had to make impossible choices about who got the scarce ventilators or whatever lifesaving means was in too short of supply. I have also had clients who years ago were the drivers in lethal car accidents, and have had to live with the pain of that ever since. Grief, guilt, undying anguish that  persist and persist. Perhaps long beyond my waning supply of Kleenex. We must develop more and better ways of working with this grief. I have heard of some good results with psychedelics. Perhaps you know more than I about how to help with the healing. Meanwhile, I wonder what became of Gayle. She was a good friend.  

Today’s Song: 

(Eric Clapton would know: his four year old son tragically died in 1991.) 

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