I have an amateur website*. I love it very much as my son created it. It is so easy to understand it is not professional. It is a site where people paying attention to appearance could find a million mistakes, but it is quite valuable to me. The ones who build websites know that the main page is important. The one who visits the site either stays there getting affected by the visuals and the writings there or quits and leaves. When my son asked me what should be written in the main page, I was so clear. I said:
“There is death”.
“There is grief”.
My husband was also in preparation for the website about his own business. He laughed a lot to my quick reply. He said “Of course, when the subject is death and grief, two sentences are enough, aren’t they?”
Is it so? I think these two sentences symbolize a key rather than a sufficiency. It is like the keys to a door which has not been opened before or you rapidly has opened and closed. In some of our experiences, these keys are slipped into our hands forcibly; the time when we get the illness and/or death news of the ones we love or our own illness news.
Avery Weisman, currently 108 and one of the eminent psychiatrists at Harvard University, is the first person to have added a concept on coping with death anxiety to literature; middle knowledge. Middle knowledge explains that the denial of death is a complex process and talks about togetherness of two simultaneous and opposite approaches about the inevitability of death. We can deny and accept death at the same time. A person with a terminal illness can make holiday plans for the next year knowing that they will die in a foreseeable time at the same time. In this way, they make the burden that living with the reality of an imminent death creates in their soul manageable. In my Palliative Care experiences, I come across many patients having the same experience. For example, I met a patient who chose the dress she would wear at the graduation ceremony of her grandchild while dealing with the issues of her will at the same time. In the same way, I had a conversation with a chef who loved Turkish cuisine two days to his death. Within the same conversation, we talked about whom his ashes should be given to after his death and the details of the journey to Turkey he wanted to have.
It is possible to talk about the same thing for the grievers as well. It takes time to accept the reality of a loss (griefs as a result of death or through other means) as acceptance is not a process managed by only our minds. It has an emotional dimension as well. The griever knows logically that a loss has happened. However, it might take longer for their emotions to get to this acceptance. I frequently witness that this part of the process is ignored from the perspective of the ones who keep the grievers (an environment to support the grievers). The tendency that states that it is a situation to be dealt with mostly using the mind seems to outweigh. I think one of the reasons the grievers look for people to talk is this; the focus of their existing environment being one-sided.
To give an example of the losses after death, I can say that the griever knows that the loss is ultimate as it is explained through middle knowledge, but they still can go on living as if the dead person were alive. In fact, in such cases, I replace the phrase middle knowledge with “middle world” as there are periods for these people when the reality breaks. They move to another world and the situation of believing or not believing their beloved one is gone coexists at the same time.
Do you have acquaintances living in the Middle World? I do. There are me, my mum, my companions I assisted as a grief doula. My mum said that she paid attention that she was on one side of the bed feeling as if they were in the same bed with my dad some nights after the death of my father because she thought and felt that my dad was there. During the period when my son was first diagnosed with his neurological illness, I was planning the journeys we would have together in the following few months though I was logically in the acceptance of his physical limits.
There is death.
There is grief.
There is Middle World (Knowledge).
For a person who can name their grief and express it in ways appropriate for them, middle world journeys are a normal part of grief period as it takes time for us to learn how to live with the emptiness our loss leaves in our souls. To me, telling the people in a situation like my mum that the people they love are not on the other side of the bed anymore is no different than attacking their souls with an axe. My mum sure knew that my dad was not in that bed anymore, but her soul needed some time to accept it like, in my own experience, my needing some time to accept my son’s physical situation emotionally. Don’t forget that the soul comes from behind slowly. Remember that what people in grief period need is an environment where they can express their grief comfortably and without any judgement. Accompanying grief periods without criticism and with acceptance is a considerate gift with love. It is a common area of humanity and even an act of sharing.
Put the axes in your hands down.