Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘media’

Once You Wake Up

51NTSaSA13LWhile You Were Watching the Waltons: A collection of essays and short stories by Gormla Hughes. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

A short book, with short writings, and short powerful sentences. A brilliant writer. When scribes, and writing teachers, say, “make very word count”, they must have read the words of Gormla Hughes. While You Were Watching the Waltons combines fiction and non-fiction as few do, and uses every space to its full potential.

Here is a brief glimpse from the essay, Pink Ink and Cyberspace, which looks at the influence of media, role expectations, and maintaining the status quo. “Having stigma attached to you folds you up in eights as citizens. An invisible tagging system. One designed to keep you in line. In line long enough for the Power Holders to acquire more bricks for their empire. But, once you wake up. Once you wake up the anger is transformative.”

The story The Rocking Chair kept me on the edge of mine. There is tension, pain, an encroaching past, and constant threat of violence. “Sitting in the rocking chair, I pour the wine. I take three gulps. I need to numb the desire to kill. Me or Her. I lean back and rock. I like the motion. It makes me feel nurtured. What I think nurtured feels like. I can only speculate.” This tale is a perfect example of the author’s use of rhythm and precision. What could be simpler, or more menacing than, “I need to numb the desire to kill.”

Other stories include The Insemination, about Elsa’s hopes of getting pregnant; Elizabeth’s reaction to her mother’s death, with painful memories of abuse, and not believing, in The Funeral; and the final essay, My Disappearance, which describes the process of loss, discrimination, and finding one’s self beyond expectation. “But I have lost everything that kept me a visible part of humanity, and with it found a freedom. I know how polite works as a tool of subservience.”

While We Were Watching the Waltons is an affront – an affront to “normalcy”. It not only helps us see the world from other perspectives, but also challenges its readers’ to question authority, support those who do, and look inside and out, to see what lies and stories we believe and tell ourselves daily. Creating characters (real and imagined), and using words that have meaning and depth, is no easy task. Not many do it justice. Ms. Hughes is an exception to that reality. She does it very well.

 

 

A Woman’s Own Way

An excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

“Emotional, tearful, talkative, weak, dependent, scattered, illogical, over-reacting, out of control and hysterical.” These are some of the judgments and labels that women are painted with when they react to the loss of a loved one.

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Some times women (and men) do react to a sudden or expected death with a great deal of emotion and cry, talk, scream, wail and/or moan. Thank goodness that they do, for by doing so they are teachers for both sexes of how to honor and acknowledge a natural, human response to loss. If people are not allowed to “let go”, “collapse” or “lose it” after the death of a loved one, when on earth can they? When is there ever a better time to release the anguish and pain of having someone or a number of people ripped out of your life?

There is nothing inherently “weak” in allowing the true depths of our suffering to surface. It takes strength to allow oneself to be vulnerable and honest. It takes incredible energy, support and awareness to do something that most Americans have pathologized, minimized or tried at all costs to “get over”. Yet, more often than not, women are the pioneers in taking this journey of mourning, of walking through the valley, stepping on the sharp rocks and finding their way back to life; often with a new found respect and appreciation for the preciousness of life.

In some cultures, both here and abroad, there are women who are the “designated mourners” at funerals, and are the ones that show up at families’ homes when there has been a death. They hold a place of honor in their communities, because of their ability to connect with, hold and release the individual, and the communal pain of loss and separation that has occurred. Like midwives at births, these women are held in high esteem, as strong, aware healers who have their feet planted solidly on the earth, while their hearts compassionately open to both the suffering and the pain.

We, as a society, have slowly begun to recognize the power of grief and mourning and are starting to realize that such reactions are normal, for both women and men, and that to not have such outward or visible reactions to loss is also an acceptable way to mourn.

Because of past conditioning by families, institutions and media, women have often bought into the stereotypes of how they should or shouldn’t grieve and mourn. If they aren’t crying, sad, depressed or screaming after the death of a loved one, they often think something is wrong, that they’re “weird” or “abnormal”.

Just as there is wide variance in men, with regards to how we react, process and think about loss, so to for women. There are no universal women, or universal men with exact, programmed responses to life and death. There are countless ways in which we mourn. How we react to loss is the outcome of hundreds of factors, including, but not limited to, our relationship with the deceased; how long we’ve known them; how we have dealt with past crisis; how old we are; how they died; whether we were with them or not at the time of death; how we were told of their death; what kind of support system we have or don’t have; other responsibilities; financial or health concerns; what our belief systems are; and the messages we have received from others on what is or is not acceptable.

I have met women who were in great turmoil because they were not proceeding as “planned” by their and/or others’ expectations of when, how and where they should be at a given time, in regards to their grieving or reactions to the loss of a loved one.

One woman had not cried since the death of her father six months previous. She thought something was “wrong” with her. Yet, after describing everything she had had to do in the last six months, and the kind of relationship she had with her father, she realized that she had been doing just what she needed to do in order to survive and function. Once she was acknowledged and validated for doing what she needed to do, in the way she needed to do it, she was then able to acknowledge and express her conflicted emotions without fear of judgment or “being crazy”.

Another women said she never mourned or cried for her sister, whom she had loved dearly. Upon further reflection she realized that she thought about her sister every day when she jogged and was inspired by her sister’s life to continue teaching and helping others learn.

And some women (and men) tend to avoid their grief and pain by avoiding such emotions as much as possible. They stay busy, work twelve-hour days, drink excessively and/or use drugs. They jump from one relationship into another, and/or become so focused on a particular goal or activity that they are, for a time, able to compartmentalize, push aside, numb out or ignore the feelings, thoughts and impacts of having someone die.

These are all natural reactions to pain, to not wanting to hurt. Usually, however, such reactions end up causing more complications and don’t take away or change the pain of loss that remains.

I would ask that you take a moment to think about women. Think about their personalities, differences, relationships and families; how they interact with others; how they mourn and see themselves. Ask them which roles, lifestyles and behaviors they feel have been imposed or expected of them, and which ones they have chosen or made their own. They may be emotional, stoic, afraid, silent, loud, tearful, strong, confused, clueless, aware, insightful, isolated or social. They may be your partner, your sister, your mother, your grandchild, grandmother, aunt, colleague or friend. I invite you to see and treat each one as unique, creative human beings, who have the right, the power and the prerogative to deal with and react to life and death on their own terms.

More support and stories at: Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter.

Pristine Amazon Threatened

Dear Friends,

There is one area of the Ecuadorian Amazon that is so pristine that the whole ecosystem has been preserved and even jaguars roam free! But the government is now threatening to go in and drill for oil.

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The local indigenous people have been resisting, but they are afraid that oil companies will break up the community with bribes. When they heard that people across the world might stand with them and make a stink to save their land, they were thrilled. The president of Ecuador claims to stand for indigenous rights and the environment, but he has just come up with a new plan to bring oil speculators in to 4 million hectares of jungle. If we can say ‘wait a minute, you’re supposed to be the green president who says no one can buy Ecuador’, we could expose him for turning his back on his commitments just as he is fighting for re-election.

He doesn’t want a PR nightmare right now. If we get a million of us to help this one community defend their ancestral land and challenge the president openly to keep to his word, we could start a media storm that would make him reconsider the whole plan. Sign the petition now and tell everyone — let’s help save this beautiful forest:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/oil_in_the_amazon_8/?bMPbqab&v=21318

After Texaco and other oil companies polluted Ecuadorian waters and irreversibly devastated precious ecosystems, Correa led his country to be the world’s first nation to recognize the rights of “Mother Earth” in its constitution. He announced Ecuador was not for sale, and in Yasuni National Park promoted an innovative initiative where other governments pay Ecuador to keep oil in the ground to protect the rainforest rather than destroy it. But now he’s on the verge of selling out.

Shockingly, the Sani Isla Kichwa land is partly in Yasuni National Park. But even more shocking is Correa’s bigger plan — in days government officials begin a world tour to offer foreign investors the right to drill across 4 million hectares of forest (an area larger than the Netherlands!) Ecuador, as any country, may argue it has the right to profit from its natural resources, but the constitution itself says it must respect indigenous rights and its amazing forests, which bring millions in tourist dollars every year.

Right now, Correa is in a tough fight to win a second term as president. It’s the perfect time to make him honour his environmental promises and make this green constitution come to life. Sign now to stand with the Kichwa people and save their forest:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/oil_in_the_amazon_8/?bMPbqab&v=21318

Our community has fought year after year to protect the Amazon in Brazil and Bolivia, and won many victories standing in solidarity with indigenous communities. Now it’s Ecuador’s turn — let’s respond to this urgent call for action and save their forest.

With hope and determination,

Alex, Pedro, Alice, Laura, Marie, Ricken, Taylor, Morgan and all the Avaaz team

Muslims Help Stop Riots

Excerpt from story by Robert Lambert on 12 Aug 2011 in AlJazeera.

Muslims tackle looters and bigots

British Muslims’ reaction to the riots should dispel any continued demonisation in the media.

There is a lively debate taking place in the UK media between left and right wing commentators as to the causes of the English riots, in which hundreds of shops and businesses have been looted. However, both sides agree that the looting has been inexcusable. I hope both sides will also agree with me that Muslims have played an important role in helping to tackle the looting and preserve public safety. This would be an especially important acknowledgment if it came from those Islamophobic commentators who consistently denigrate Muslims.

“When accused of terrorism we are Muslims, when killed by looters, we become Asian”, a Muslim student explained to me. He was commenting on the media reportingof the death of three young Muslims in Birmingham on Tuesday night. Like many other Muslims, they were bravely defending shops and communities as rioters went on a violent rampage of looting.

In recent days Muslim Londoners, Muslims from Birmingham, and Muslims in towns and cities around England have been at the forefront of protecting small businesses and vulnerable communities from looting. Having worked closely with Muslim Londoners, first as a police officer and more recently as a researcher, for the last ten years this commendable bravery comes as no surprise to me. But their example of outstanding civic duty in support of neighbors is worth highlighting – especially when sections of the UK media are so quick to print negative headlines about Muslims on the flimsiest of pretexts.
Pro-active response

On Monday evening when London suffered its worst looting in living memory I watched as a well marshaled team of volunteers wearing green fluorescent security vests marked ‘East London Mosque’ took to the streets of Tower Hamlets to help protect shops and communities from gangs of looters. This was the most visible manifestation of their pro-active response to fast moving and well co-ordinated teams of looters. Less visible was the superb work of Muslim youth workers from Islamic Forum Europe who used the same communication tools as the looters to outwit and pre-empt them on the streets.

While senior Westminster politicians started to pack and rush back to London from foreign holidays I watched Lutfur Rahman, the Muslim mayor of Tower Hamlets, offering calm leadership and support in the street as gangs of looters were intercepted and prevented from stealing goods in his presence.

Most important to emphasize is the extent to which everyone in Tower Hamlets was a beneficiary of streetwise, smart Muslims acting swiftly to protect shops, businesses and communities against looters. It is often wrongly alleged that Muslims lack any sense of civic duty towards non-Muslims and especially towards the LGBT Community. I wish peddlers of that negative anti-Muslim message had been present to see how all citizens in Tower Hamlets were beneficiaries of Muslim civic spirit and bravery on Monday night.

I am not sure if the Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan was robbed of his bike by looters in Tower Hamlets or in another part of London as he cycled home from Hackney to Greenwich on Monday night, but even his incessant negative reporting of Muslims associated with the East London Mosque would not have excluded him from their neighbourly support had they been in the immediate vicinity to help him.

Gilligan reports that police were unable to offer him any advice other than to go home when he finally received an answer to his 999 call as a victim of a violent street robbery. London policing on Monday night was stretched as never before and Gilligan was one amongst hundreds of victims who had to fend for themselves as looters ran amok around the capital city. In these unique circumstances the street skills of Muslim youth workers, who are routinely helping police to tackle violent gang crime and anti-social behaviour in Tower Hamlets, Walthamstow, Brixton and in other deprived neighbourhoods, were a key ingredient in filling the vacuum created by insufficient police numbers.

I first saw East London Mosque and Islamic Forum Europe street skills in action in 2005 when they robustly dispatched extremists from Al Muhajiroun who were in Whitechapel attempting to recruit youngsters into their hate filled group. I saw the same skills in action in the same year when volunteers from the Muslim Association of Britain and Muslim Welfare House ousted violent supporters of Abu Hamza from the Finsbury Park Mosque. More recently, Muslim bravery has been seen in Brixton when extremists spouting the latest manifestation of Al Muhajroun hatred were sent packing out of town. In all these instances, and so many more, the brave Muslims involved have received no praise for their outstanding bravery and good citizenship, and instead faced a never ending barrage of denigration from journalists such as Gilligan, Melanie Phillips, Martin Bright…. sorry I won’t go on, it’s a long list!

Sadly, many of the brave Muslims helping to keep their cities safe have not only grown used to denigration from media pundits but also faced cuts in government funding for their youth outreach work with violent gangs. This is not as a result of widespread economic cuts caused by the recession, but because the government adopts the media view that they are ‘extremist’. Street in Brixton is a case in point. Yesterday Dr Abdul Haqq Baker director of Street was forced to close a Street youth centre in Brixton as his reduced team of youth of workers struggled to keep pace with the task of tackling gang violence and its role in rioting and looting.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE AT: ALJAZEERA

American Idol Rocks On!

Our young man from my hometown Santa Cruz, James Durbin, is rocking American Idol week after week and as of today, is in the top 7. That is out of over 100,000 people that tried out for the show this season. Quite amazing, considering the odds.

Not only has James continued to stay true to his interests, style and background, but he’s also been able to be quite authentic and not get too caught up in all the hype, publicity and judgments from the show, media and public.

Everyone talks about what he’s been through (father died young from overdose) and what he lives with (autism and Tourette Syndrome) and his supportive and affirmation producing girlfriend and their child, but what is most important and should be the quality that is most desired, is the music that comes through him (heart and soul).

James seems to be a natural performer and in some ways like Lady Gaga, is able to actualize what he sees in his head on stage. Combine that with a good voice and musicianship and it looks like he’s got it all.

Regardless of whether he ends up “winning” this season or not (as voted by the same people who voted off the best singer of the lot – Pia Toscano), James will have a long career doing what he loves and continuing to bring people to their feet.

American Idol has never had someone quite like James. Season eights runner-up Adam Lambert was probably the closest in temperament and musical variety. Adam has an amazing voice, which is more nuanced than James, but James is also James and when you hear him and see him, you know who it is right away… a big time winner against all odds on America’s most watched television show.

Hazel Johnson – Part 1

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call. Interview with Hazel Johnson Born: January 25, 1935 Died: January 12, 2011). Photo of Ms. Johnson holding her Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Hazel Johnson – Part 1

It started with her husband. Hazel Johnson’s sweetheart of seventeen years died an early death from lung cancer. Within ten weeks of diagnosis he’d passed away. As Mrs. Johnson began to look for answers she discovered she wasn’t alone, a significant number of people in her Southeast Chicago neighborhood were and had been dying from the disease. A high percentage of infants were born with tumors and defects. It wasn’t genetics, it wasn’t lifestyle, it was the very air they were breathing, the water they drank and the homes in which they lived. The environment was silently altering the very bodies within which they lived.

After educating herself about pollution, toxins and contamination, she put her new found knowledge to work and started PFCR (People For Community Recovery). With her leadership, things started to change. Surrounded by toxic dumps, incinerators and disposal sites, PFCR galvanized the community and successfully challenged some of the largest corporations and politicians in America to take notice and clean up the area they’d been ignoring for years.

HAZEL JOHNSON:

Let me start from the beginning. How I really got involved was my husband had died of lung cancer and at the time they didn’t know what was the cause of it. hen a few years later I heard that our area had a high incidence of cancer and I wanted to know why. We had a lot of people being ill and I knew there was something wrong. I didn’t know what it was at the time.

I started making telephone calls to the health department and was fortunate enough to get in touch with Dr. Reginald Jones. He was well abreast about the area. He explained to me what was going on in the South East side of Chicago . . . about all the contaminants and things. He told me of an organization that was dealing with the environment. I made numerous calls and found out about the Environmental Action Foundation. At that time they had a young man whose name was Kent Silva. I questioned him on a lot of things, about different types of chemicals. He sent me a lot of literature so I could read up on it.

PCR (People for Community Recovery) really started in my bedroom. I did a lot of studying to see what the problem was that we were dealing with out here.

When I first started a lot of people thought I was crazy. People said I didn’t know what I was talking about, because this was something new to everybody. They weren’t talking about the environment then like they do today.

In our apartment, in the attic, we have what I call angel hair. I called for them to remove the angel hair from the attic of our apartment. The kids would climb up in there and come out crying and stinging, you know, from the fiberglass. We had that removed.

After that we started fighting against Waste Management across the street because the odor was horrible . . . you had the garbage smell. I started doing a little research on Waste Management and learned how they were dealing with chemicals with the incinerator; how they were burning chemicals from many parts of the United States.

And the garbage . . . I’d never been concerned about the garbage before, until I really got involved with the environment and what was going on. This was all in the early eighties. You know, you put your garbage out and you don’t think about it no more. After I got involved dealing with the environment I got to be more concerned about the garbage and the whole recycling bit of it.

The Waste Management over there. (Nods outside.) I waited until my fifties, in July of eighty-seven, before I went to jail for stopping the trucks that were going in there. We had the media . . . we had a lot of people. In fact we had over five hundred people participating with this stopping the trucks from coming in. We had planned it. We had big garbage cans. Some people were out their barbecuing, with sandwiches and stuff. We had a party. After all the media left Waste Management called the police on us and seventeen of us decided to go to jail for “trespassing”.

When it came to court the judge didn’t know what to do, because he complimented us on what we were doing. Then he called the lawyer and talked to her in the back, in the chamber and when he came back he just said, “Stay away from the property for six months.” After that, we were next door to the property, on the expressway, with big signs and truckers and cars passing by were honking, blowing their horns and carrying on. We really had a lot of excitement going along the expressway. Waste Management called the police on us again, but there was really nothing they could do. We weren’t on their property.

We were saying how we didn’t want another landfill right across the street from a high school and everything, because of how it would affect the people.

And at Miller Manor they had some well water, which was so contaminated you couldn’t even drink it. It smelled just like a rotten egg. It was horrible! And they’d been paying taxes for water they couldn’t even use. There were about six families of older people. A lot of people didn’t believe the city of Chicago had wells, because everybody thought they had all the new system. When the EPA came to check they find out the city has over two thousand wells! After they got so much publicity for that the mayor came in and helped those people out. They didn’t even have a hydrant. If they had had a fire the place would have burned down automatically. So they went in and installed a water system and a hydrant and stuff and they started getting regular water, which they didn’t have to pay for since they’d been paying all those years before and couldn’t even use it. It made a big difference.

The media really picked up a lot of things I’ve been doing. I think that’s made a lot of these success stories that I talk about. The media participated a lot in it too. One little girl, I like her very much, her name is Deborah Nargent and she’s on ABC. She was a great help with the asbestos problem and gave me little tips of what to do and how to be successful with what we were doing.

Sometimes it gets frustrating getting folks to do what they should have in the first place. Like I’m telling my daughter and everybody right now, I am worn out. I am tired. At one point I’d never get home until ten or eleven o’clock at night. I’m working here during the day, then in the evenings we’d have meeting after meeting. Now I’m exhausted. I’m an older woman. At one point I was in the air two or three times a month, going to universities and speaking to meetings or before congress talking about the environment.

I’m on the CSI (Common Sense Initiative), dealing with the industry people in Washington. I asked my daughter Josephine if she’d like to be on the board for that because I’m tired. I don’t want to do no more running around here and there. A lot of people think that’s pleasure. To me it’s not because when I come back I’m worn out. I have to rest two or three days returning from wherever.

But I’m fortunate to say that the majority of the things I’ve fought for are real successful. When I first started a newsman from the local ABC came and asked me, “How do you think a small minority group like yours can buck up against a Multi-million dollar corporation?” I said, “You never know what you can do until you try.” About a year or two later I wrote him a letter outlining all my accomplishments, but he never returned or called saying he’d received the letter. Later on, when we were having a protest about the airport they were talking about building, he was there. I asked him, “Did you receive my letter?” He said, “Yeah, I received it.” But he made no comment on it.

Then we fought for the lagoons to be cleaned up and they cleaned up three of them. They had over 30,000 contaminants in them. Some of the stuff that was put in there had been in so long that they couldn’t tell what it was. A few barrels had paint solvent; some had baby sharks and baby pigs that had been used for medical research, that were in formaldehyde. They had problems trying to clean it all up because whatever was down there was such a mess it would clog up the trucks taking it out. They had to go back and get more money because it took a lot longer than they’d expected. The South side of Chicago was a forgotten area. Nobody was saying anything about the South East side until I got involved.

I’ve discovered that there are more waste sites and dumps around people of color and in poor areas than in other communities; not just here, but all around the country. We’ve brought this issue to national and international attention. I went to the world summit in Brazil. e had women from around the world discussing the problems in our communities. They had people from more than a hundred and twenty five countries. It was the first time they’d ever gotten so many dignitaries from different countries to sit down and take a picture together.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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Close to the Bone

“Let them go.” “Get over it.” “Move on.” “Pull yourself together.” “Quit living in the past.” “Look towards the future.” “You must find closure and carry on.”

Such common comments directed at the bereft send me up a wall and make me want to scream. And if it would do any good to scream at myself I would, because most of the time it’s my own mind that’s running these messages around in my head, bombarding me with what I should do. Sure, they’re reinforced by family, friends and society, especially the media, but it is I who soak it up, repeat it like a mantra and then beat myself up for not getting “over it” (my grief) quick enough. But the reality is, at least my reality is, that I have to remember. Remembering is the only thing that keeps me sane.

Remembering the dead is vital to our health. Keeping them with us, close to the bone, close to our hearts and minds, is the first step in transforming our past, so we can bring them with us into the future. Remembering is the road, the path, the catalyst that can teach us how to adjust to our loved one’s physical absence and live a life that has room for them and those who are living.

The Mexican Day of the Dead is one of many rituals and celebrations around the world and throughout the year, that invites us, as individuals and as part of the world community, to not forget our dead. It asks us to take a few days out of our hectic lives of planning, preparation, rebuilding and commotion to stop, reflect and embrace those from the past who have and continue to shape our lives.

As powerful as remembering can be, it is not enough to simply remember and tell our story. In order to bring those who have died in to our lives and use their memory for our own good and the good of others, we must release the emotions that assault us when we are reminded of their absence.

When I look at the picture of our friend Marcia, who died in a car accident, I cry. When my eyes go to the next picture of my Uncle Danny, who killed himself, I cry. When I see my father-in-law, Claude, who was hijacked by Alzheimer’s, I cry. Sometimes, in the midst of my tears, feelings of anger, guilt, frustration and helplessness crash land in my body. Once they are recognized, I cry some more and let them go.

In the past, during my morning ritual of remembering family members and friends, I often found myself grieving the loss of others as well; those who had been murdered, died in wars, starved to death, been crushed in earthquakes or swept away in floods. Now, I find I am crying for my uncle Danny and those crushed in Cambodia, for our friend Marcia and those killed by floods or violence in Pakistan, for my father-in-law Claude and those who perished in the latest mining disaster in the U.S. I am crying for their families, who have been thrown violently onto the gutted road of grief and mourning.

In this coming year, I hope I have enough room in my heart for all of those who have died and for those living. I hope I lead the kind of life that people who are gone no longer have the opportunity to live. I hope I can integrate death into life and use this precious container we call living to help others keep their loved ones present. I hope our world finds some meaning in the midst of such devastating losses and we discover how to remember, release and embrace our feelings of emptiness and helplessness with understanding, awareness and compassion.

I pray that we, as citizens of the world, never forget those who have died, release the pain we feel with their absence and tenaciously hold on to them in any damn way we choose.

Take It Like A Man

“Be strong.” “Bear up to pain.” “Be sexually potent.” “Provide for others.” “Endure.” “Don’t give in.” “Compete and win at all costs.” “Be in control.” “Remain rational, unemotional and logical.” “Accomplish, achieve, perform.” “Be assertive, in control and one step ahead of the next guy.”

These are some of the messages given to young boys and men for thousands of years. We’ve heard it from lovers, parents, families, friends, religions, governments, the media and other men since birth. Some of the messages of expected behavior are blatant and others more subtle. Some are proclaimed orally or in print and others are non-verbal and observed by actions and deeds. “Don’t cry.” “Never, ever, express or convey fear, dependence, loneliness, emotion, weakness, passivity or insecurity.”

It’s only been in the last forty years, since the modern women’s movement (in some areas of the world), that these cultural, familial and religious norms and expectations have been questioned, debated, challenged and/or changed. Within this short span of freedom from such rigid conditioning, some men have chosen (consciously or unconsciously) to embrace these norms and continue the cycle. Others have revolted against them altogether and thrown out the positive attributes of such expectations, along with the negative. And others swagger back and forth between the past and the present, in a state of confusion, bewilderment and loss.

Regardless of how one lives, when a man loses a loved one, by death or separation, they can be thrown into an unknown world of pain that casts their beliefs, personal expectations and accepted ways of being into an ocean of doubt, turmoil and isolation. Loss causes an eruption of feelings, fears and thoughts that fly in the face of what it has meant to “be a man”. Feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, emptiness, doubt, confusion, helplessness and indescribable pain can assail our very concept and perception of who we are.

Efforts at avoiding, “toughing it out”, controlling or “getting rid” of the pain of loss, only result in temporary relief, often at the expense of long-term health and rarely change the reality of our condition. The pain of grief is one of the few kinds of pain in life that are best dealt with head on, by doing something men are often taught to avoid. The pain of grief and mourning tend to change and heal with time and attention, when we can honestly acknowledge what we are feeling, thinking and believing and externalize such reactions in a positive, healthy environment and/or manner.

Men and women all experience the pain of grief and loss and both genders feel its impact, in many of the same ways. What tends to be different about the sexes is the way in which we talk about and verbalize such feelings and experiences. We filter them differently. Men often talk about the things we did for our loved one, how we took care of them, what we’re “doing” now and what we “plan” to do in the future. We blame others or ourselves for something that did or didn’t happen or something that could have been different; something that would have spared us the pain we are now experiencing. Our anger, guilt and reasoning; are ways we try to control and make sense out of our grief and the situation it has put us in.

Though it is a generality and never true at all times, with all men or all women, men tend to speak “about”, instead of “of” or “with”. If I asked a gentleman how he’s been “feeling” or what had been the “most difficult” about the loss of his wife, partner or parent, he might look at me as if I was speaking Russian. If, on the other hand, I questioned his “reactions” or asked him to tell me a story “about” the deceased, he would begin to take the road to the same valley of pain that a woman experiences, but get there from a different route.

Ironically, men often seem to be more emotionally dependent on women for their sense of self, than the other way around. (Again, please remember that I am speaking in generalities and there are thousands of exceptions.) The women in a man’s life are who he tends to share his most intimate needs, desires and fears with, as it is seldom safe or accepted to talk about such things with other men. Thus, when a woman mate, friend or mother dies or leaves, men have nobody to whom they feel they can acceptably turn to and their need for intimate human contact and emotional well being is left in a desert of thirst for companionship, friendship, validation and/or physical contact.

Many men, though not all, also connect physical touch with sex, because it is one of the few occasions in their lives when they are permitted or expected to touch or be touched. To hug, kiss or embrace another man or woman, aside from the sexual act, is frowned upon and charged with a variety of expectations, judgments and fears. Thus, after the death of a loved one, men often do not know how, where or when it is acceptable or possible to have any human contact that is not sexual.

Luckily, there are people, men and women, who are willing and able to listen to men’s lives and experiences surrounding grief and loss. There are places where a man can be held, without any sexual involvement or expectation of such. There are people within families, churches and communities that honor and respect our gender’s differences without putting limits or expectations on what those differences can or should be.

If you or a man you care about, has experienced the loss of a loved one, give yourself or him, the comfort, permission and love that all humans need, regardless of gender and provide the personal or community resources that can help the hurt change to healing and positive action.

Permission Granted: A Woman’s Loss

“Emotional, tearful, talkative, weak, dependent, scattered, illogical, over-reacting, out of control and hysterical.” These are some of the judgments and labels that women are painted with when they react to the loss of a loved one.

Some times women (and men) do react to a sudden or expected death with a great deal of emotion and cry, talk, scream, wail and/or moan. Thank God that they do, for by doing so they are teachers for both sexes of how to honor and acknowledge a natural, human response to loss. If people are not allowed to “let go”, “collapse” or “lose it” after the death of a loved one, when on earth can they? When is there ever a better time to release the anguish and pain of having someone or a number of people ripped out of your life?

There is nothing inherently “weak” in allowing the true depths of our suffering to surface. It takes a lot of strength to allow oneself to be so vulnerable and honest. It takes incredible energy, support and awareness to do something that most Americans have pathologized, minimized or tried at all costs to “get over”. Yet, more often than not, women are the pioneers in taking this journey of mourning, of walking through the valley, stepping on the sharp rocks and finding their way back to life; often with a new found respect and appreciation for the preciousness of life.

In some cultures, both here and abroad, there are women who are the “designated mourners” at funerals and are the ones that show up at families’ homes when there has been a death. They hold a place of honor in their communities, because of their ability to connect with, hold and release the individual and the communal pain of loss and separation that has occurred. Like midwives at births, these women are held in high esteem, as strong, aware healers who have their feet planted solidly on the earth, while their hearts compassionately open to both the suffering and the pain.

We, as a society, have slowly begun to recognize the power of grief and mourning and are starting to realize that such reactions are normal, for both women and men and that to not have such outward or visible reactions to loss is also an acceptable way to mourn.

Because of past conditioning by families, institutions and media, women have often bought into the stereotypes of how they should or shouldn’t grieve and mourn. If they aren’t crying, sad, depressed or screaming after the death of a loved one, they often think something is wrong, that they’re “weird” or “abnormal”.

Just as there is wide variance in men, with regards to how we react, process and think about loss, so to for women. There are no universal women or universal men with exact, programmed responses to life and death. There are countless ways in which we mourn. How we react to loss is the outcome of hundreds of factors, including, but not limited to, our relationship with the deceased; how long we’ve known them; how we have dealt with past crisis; how old we are; how they died; whether we were with them or not at the time of death; how we were told of their death; what kind of support system we have or don’t have; other responsibilities; financial or health concerns; what our belief systems are; and the messages we have received from others on what is or is not acceptable.

I have met women who were in great turmoil because they were not proceeding as “planned” by their and/or others’ expectations of when, how and where they should be at a given time, in regards to their grieving or reactions to the loss of a loved one.

One woman had not cried since the death of her father six months previous. She thought something was “wrong” with her. Yet, after describing everything she had had to do in the last six months and the kind of relationship she had with her father, she realized that she had been doing just what she needed to do in order to survive and function. Once she was acknowledged and validated for doing what she needed to do, in the way she needed to do it, she was then able to acknowledge and express her conflicted emotions without fear of judgment or “being crazy”.

Another women said she never mourned or cried for her sister, whom she had loved dearly. Upon further reflection she realized that she thought about her sister every day when she jogged and was inspired by her sister’s life to continue teaching and helping others learn.

And some women (and men) tend to avoid their grief and pain by avoiding such emotions as much as possible. They stay busy, work twelve-hour days, drink excessively and/or use drugs. They jump from one relationship into another and/or become so focused on a particular goal or activity that they are, for a time, able to compartmentalize, push aside, numb out or ignore the feelings, thoughts and impacts of having someone die.

These are all natural reactions to pain, to not wanting to hurt. Usually, however, such reactions end up causing more complications and don’t take away or change the pain of loss that remains.

I would ask that you take a moment to think about the women in your life. Think about their personalities, differences, relationships and families; how they interact with others; how they mourn and see themselves. Ask them which roles, lifestyles and behaviors they feel have been imposed or expected of them and which ones they have chosen or made their own. They may be emotional, stoic, afraid, silent, loud, tearful, strong, confused, clueless, aware, insightful, isolated or social. They may be your partner, your sister, your mother, your grandchild, grandmother, aunt, colleague or friend. I invite you to see and treat each of them as unique, creative human beings, who have the right, the power and the prerogative to deal with and react to life and death on their own terms.

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