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Grief - It's What's For Dinner

Some years back, Winn Dixie grocery stores uses the following ad:  "Beef, it's what's for dinner."

As I have spent the past year and a half grieving the vast number of losses, I recalled that grief has become my dinner.  In fact, it has sometimes been my daily food.  Grief forces you to do that.  It sidles up next to us and we carry her like a cloak everywhere we go.  Every event of our day is experienced through the lens of grief.  And it's uncomfortable, boring, tasteless and unappetizing.

But the truth about grief is you can't always shove it away.  Denial prolongs the pain.  She'll come back with a vengeance.  Entertain grief as long as necessary.  Think of her as an unwanted house keeper.  She is present to help you dust the cobwebs from your soul.  Her mission is cleaning out the clutter that has long weighed you down.  She is ruthless at times, forcing you to release memorabilia that has held you captive to deep soul pain.  But she must do her work.

I call my season of grief a collective grief.  I'm not referring to the grief due to the death of a loved one.  I'm referring to grief associated with mental illness.  To me, it's more encompassing.  I'm in no way down playing other types of grief, but I am saying this type of grief stems from a lifetime of loss.  As a mental health advocate, I am saying it is time we appreciate this deep abiding long term grief cycle that occurs in mental health families.

Loss happens to all of us.  But more loss accompanies mental illness.  Some people may only lose one job in a lifetime.  Try losing 12!  Or imagine that you illness is so severe that you can't even have a job.  You might experience the loss of a friend here or there on a rare occasion.  But stop for a moment to take in the collective loss of family and friends.  Add to that, the stigma and stereotypes within our culture and you might recognize why mental health grief is so encompassing.

I'm willing to say out loud and with honesty and an anger against injustice that it is time for us to love and embrace mental illness.  It is time we share in the joys and sorrows.  It is time we understand that mental illness survivors deserve the same treatment as those recovering from cancer.  It is time for phone calls to see how the doctor visit went.  It's time for meals to be delivered when the illness interrupts life, or when a loved one returns from a hospital stay.

Yes, I will keep saying this out loud until people hear.  Perhaps YOUR compassion would ease the visit of grief.  No, not perhaps, I know it would.  How often have I begged God to send me friends like this?!

With the simple refusal to accept and appreciate ones journey with mental illness, we pronounce upon them a sentence of death...death of relationships, death of hope...death of dreams and sometimes death itself! How often have played a part in driving one to suicide because of our stubborn stigma?  How often have we sent grief to visit a family because we were too uncomfortable with a mental illness discussion?  Far too often and the tragedy of inaction and silence must STOP!

My journey through grief may not be over.  As I twist and wind my way through the corridors of my soul, I get glimpses of the light.  The light seems brief before I am once again plunged head long into a chasm of grief.  Every time I hope for the world to change, it seems hope is short lived.  Far too often society believes a one time fix cures mental illness grief and pain.  But it does not.  Mental illness survivors and their families need people to walk with them through their suffering.  This requirement reveals why many people don't desire to be this self-giving or compassionate.

I pushed grief out the door today.  She left and I felt my heart warmed by the light of hope.  Will she be back?  Most likely she will unless...

- Joyce Roseman


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