I’m going rogue off of my prompt list to write about something I want to write about. The necessity of sacrifice in life, and the allowance of grief for that which is sacrificed. I believe that often these things go hand in hand, but we are encouraged to revere the former, and hide the latter.
I do not believe that we can have everything we want, or that anything is possible. I think this is a uniquely American philosophy borne out of middle class morality and -ridiculous bubble-gum pop psy feel good bullshit. I believe that life repeatedly forces us to make hard choices, and that these choices usually involve a loss of something- a dream, money, hopes, goals, people, things, whatever… We do the best we can with the information we have, filtered through our minds with all of their logical fallacies, traumas and other sorts of disordered thinking. I also believe that we live in a society with a plethora of binaries, and we are often forced to make choices that are not, objectively, necessary. Monogamy. Children or career. Religion. Denomination. Races. Classes. Ingroups and outgroups.
Any choice involves the selection of this rather than that. And we generally believe that the sacrifice of that is supposed to be worth it in the “end,” whatever that means to the situation. Being a largely judeo-christian society, the concept of sacrifice is baked into our culture, if not our behavior. Jesus on the cross, the saints and martyrs, revolutionary history, reverence of military service, etc. Even the mundane, such as parenthood or choosing a career of public service is a potent sacrifice. We ascribe virtue to sacrifice, and even use this as a means to subjugate others (women, minorities).
What we don’t talk about is the grief that accompanies the choice. Whatever the loss is, society is uncomfortable with the complexity of that feeling, and we are supposed to focus on the virtue of the sacrifice rather than the pain it engenders. This is stupid, and incredibly damaging. To ignore the grief is to only experience part of the true human experience. It also leads to resentment. I also believe it insults the sacrificer. If we cannot appreciate and revere the LOSS rather than the result or goal, do we not invalidate the meaning of the entire experience? Is sacrifice even genuine there, and where does the virtue go? In that sense, does sacrifice become just a compulsory thing that one does, a mere fact in the cost-benefit analysis of life?
Grief is the offspring of love. Without true love, there can be no sacrifice. If something isn’t meaningful, to go without it is easy and sacrifice does not happen. If we do not take the time to allow, honor and respect the pain of loss of that which was love, whether it be a person, thing, dream, etc., we become emotionally paralyzed. This sort of paralysis can lead to all sorts of badness, like loss of faith, depression, PTSD, self-harm, suicide.
To feel is to be human. When we deny the grief of another person, we disrespect their basic humanity and experience. We tell them that our personal comfort is more important than their pain, or that their pain is worthless. Its no wonder we have so many angry, hurting people lashing out at the world. When pain has no place to go, to be seen, to be honored and healed, it festers and becomes gangrenous. It corrupts, it divides, it hurts others because it hurts.
As a society, we do not learn the skills of grief care. It’s simple, really, but that doesn’t make it easy. Hold space. Full stop. This is the main thing we cannot seem to do. What does that mean? To hold space is to listen and provide support without suggestions or solutions unless asked. Just be present and care. Maybe bring some food. Do a little unobtrusive chore work whatever. But just honor the person. Sit in silence if you must. Distract if that is what she needs. Grief already feels lonely enough, just your presence is all you can really provide. Time and whatever-else is right for her does the rest.
If we could all give this a try instead of giving our opinion, shaming, or otherwise moralizing people out of a natural and healthy process, perhaps we would be a healthier, more stable world.
Photo by Sam Burriss on Unsplash