Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ambiguous Grief, Nonlinear Grieving

I have been listening to a wonderful episode of On Being:  Pauline Boss talking about ambiguous grieving.  She talks about how humans like to solve puzzles, and we often approach grieving this way, as a problem to be solved, a linear process that has a clear end.

Many of us know that grieving is not that way.

She talks about Elizabeth Kübler-Ross's 5 stages of grief--but they're not necessarily applicable to all grieving and loss:  "Elizabeth Kübler-Ross found those five stages to be relevant to people who are dying, who are fading into death."  Now most therapists have moved away from that linear way of thinking, but not everyone else has.

She also talks about responding to those who are grieving:  "And so, in fact, that is the first question I ask. “What does this mean to you?” Because until I know what this means to them, I have no idea about how to intervene. If I say, “What does this mean to you,” they may say, “It's a punishment from God,” or, “It's a punishment from my loved one. He's always been after me,” or something like that. Then I know what their viewpoint is and can proceed that way. Or they may say, “I always fail at everything. That's what this means.” Then you know you proceed that way. Or a person might say, “This is another challenge, and I think I can manage it.” This is another meaning."

Yesterday I was thinking about all the losses of the past week, and how my losses are just a pale shadow of what's yet to come.  After all, I have both of my parents and my sister and my spouse, most of my friends are still alive, I'm in good health, I have a full-time job with benefits . . . I could go on and on.  I saw a Facebook post of a friend who lost both of her parents before she was out of her 20's, and she wrote that she would give anything to have one parent back. 

I feel this odd sense of guilt, a survivor's guilt of sorts, at grieving my losses, which are in a way tangential losses:  my friend's loss of a full-time job, for example, affects me, but she's got much more to grieve than I do.  But a yoga teacher gave me great advice long ago, to stop comparing myself to others because it won't help me perfect a pose or hold my balance.  That advice seems applicable here too.

Yesterday I did what I often do in the face of loss:  I baked.  As I look back over my history of weight gain and loss, I see that I have the easiest time losing weight and keeping it off when I have happy circumstances, like in 1995 when my spouse went back to grad school, which gave me hope for the future, or in 2011, when I had a chapbook coming out.

So, yesterday I baked, but not just because I felt stress.  When I did the 10 day shred, which meant I didn't drink as much dairy, I now have all this souring milk to use up.  In case you would like a simple cake, here's the recipe (and if you don't have sour milk, you can add a tsp. of vinegar to the milk, and I suspect it would be fine with regular milk too).

Chocolate Sour Milk Cake

2 c. sugar
1/2 c. shortening
2 eggs
3 c. flour
1/2 c. cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
2 c. sour milk
Beat together sugar and shortening. Sift together flour, cocoa and baking soda. Add liquid and dry ingredients alternately to first mixture (I just mixed it all together, and it was fine). Grease pan (9x13) generously; dust with flour. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Do not open oven before 30 minutes.
I made a light icing out of powdered sugar, milk, and cocoa--coffee as the moistener would be great too.

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