Grief has many faces. Part of grief and the grieving process is to be realistic with myself about my relationship with my son. It is the only way I can recover from the grief. We had our ups and downs. He took his own path when he was about 13 years old. It was not a path Dad and I approved of most of the time. Phil bringing us grief is not new. I am also starting to look at other losses and grief patterns in my life and there were a few with him over the years that I will write about in future articles. There was a sense of loss when he quit school and I felt grief. There was a sense of loss and grief when he started smoking and then when he became involved with drugs there was more grief. Although most of his run-ins with the law were petty and even childish, it brought both his dad and I grief, there was a sense of loss, loss of his innocence, loss of pride and having a sense of accomplishment about being a great parent. Grief can occur in many forms.
The Grief Recovery Handbook Explains it
In the book, The Grief Recovery Handbook, John W. James and Russell Friedman write about enshrinement and bedeviling. I am going to go back to this in a minute and first I want to share with you a story I used to tell Phil about this very thing.
Phil was a very emotional kid and he felt things very deeply. He had a difficult time expressing his emotions and it would either come out as very passive, people pleasing behavior or angry, frustrated and aggressive. I now realize he had some unresolved grief too. He would often feel others were out to get him and he would become frustrated with how people treated him. His grief was loss of respect, loyalty, kindness…basically friendship. What I saw really going on is he would give and give and give and he would attract people who take and take and take…then he would get sick of it, explode and they would reject him so he would go back to giving and giving and giving again…only to repeat the cycle. He was creating grief for himself with this vicious cycle.
What you Focus on Grows
I never talked to Phil about grief as I didn't know that is what it was until I started to walk through this process with The Grief Recovery Handbook. I did talk to Phil about his perspective that circumstances were bad and how he chose to see things. He would complain about other people and have somewhat of a victim mentality sometimes. Like everyone was out to get him. I explained that both positive and negatives are present and they become positive or negative based on our experience with them. We are the ones who then label these experiences as positive or negative and give the circumstances significance. The more you focus on one or the other, the more that perspective grows and the next thing you know someone is labeling YOU as a negative influence or a positive influence. What you focus on grows.
Next week Paul and the kids and I are going to go camping. It has been some time since we have been camping and when the kids were little we used to go all the time. We even took them on a big camping trip to Mount Rushmore when Phil was about six years old.
When Phil would complain and be negative, I would ask him to focus on the positive. The goal was to get him to see that both positive and negative were part of the whole experience and he could choose to focus on whichever he chose and typically it was both of them mixed together that made the experience the most enjoyable.
One of the ways I did this was to relate to his experience of camping. I would ask him to point out the negatives of camping. He would say something like…well…it is sometimes hot and it is sometimes cold. There is sand in everything if you camp at the beach. If it rains it is muddy. So the weather can have a big affect on camping. I would dig in deeper and ask, "What else?" He would continue with the fact that sometimes there are critters that get into your food. Mice chewed through his dad's bag one time and ate his food. There are ticks and bugs. There is no fridge so the food sometimes gets wet in the cooler. There are flies and ants when you are trying to eat your food. Everything smells like a campfire. "What else?" I prodded. More things would roll out, sometimes there is a full moon and it makes it hard to sleep because it is so bright out. He recounted one time how the wind was so strong we had to weigh everything down and tie the tent down so we didn't lose it. It can be dangerous when there is lightening.
As he continued to point out all the things "wrong" with camping, I just listened. They were all true. It was true that we had had some negative experiences camping. Then I asked him a different question. What are the positives of camping?
Now his face took on a half smile and I could see him going back to the good memories he had of camping. The first thing he said was, "Its fun, we get to run around outside and play in the creek! We get to catch toads! There are lots of stars and I love stories around the campfire."
I was nodding my head in agreement and asked, "What else?"
"We get to fish! I love fishing and when we camped at grandpas it rained and it was so cool. Oh and I loved being able to go out on the boat."
Again my head was bobbing in agreement and I asked, "What else Phil?"
"Well….the full moon is pretty cool, it is so bright out, I actually sort of like it. Also, there are so many different types of bugs and I like to look at them."
He started to smile and I said, "Phil, what you focus on grows. All of those things are true about camping. The only difference is where you look and how you handle those things."
He used to get tired of me teaching him stuff…yet, I found out he would repeat a lot of what Paul and I taught him to his friends. Now he is teaching me about grief. I have an opportunity to learn more.
Again, I must be realistic about my relationship with my son in order to fully heal from the grief and loss of him.
Enshrinement and Grief
Many times when someone dies people tend to only focus on the positive of the relationship and the person…this does not allow them to be complete with any negative emotions they might have toward the relationship. This is called enshrinement. An example would be roadside shines to the deceased or memorial tattoos. You may have even heard the term, speak no ill will of the dead.
Bedevilment and Grief
Other people with grief may do the opposite, they become angry and withdrawn and they only focus on the negative of the relationship. The grief they feel is so overwhelming they may constantly slander the dead person and talk about how bad they were. Perhaps the person was doing drugs or were in prison or killed themselves after a series of poor choices in life. With grief, this behavior would be called bedeviling….or focusing only on the negative of the relationship.
So before you are critical of my articles and think I am speaking poorly of my son, I want you to know this is a healthy part of the process in my opinion. I am embracing my grief. I want to be able to be productive and create an amazing life and not let grief stop me. I will be raw and honest with my grief and share it with you with the hopes that it will support you or someone you know get their this process called grief.