I listened to a podcast on grief and how in this society death, dying and grief are taboo and people suffer in silence. In my own term I find that grief is silenced to death! It’s a blunt yet gentle podcast called Grief Out Loud.
In this particular episode “Inviting Grief Out Of The Whisper Corner – Megan Devine” the interviewee mentions that there’s such a “gag order on grief” in this culture, which I found a perfect description on how this society deals with grief and grieving people.
Another “loud” group, The Good Grief Project, was started by grieving couple Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds, who lost their 22 year old son Josh in a road accident on his trip in Vietnam. They interviewed other grieving parents and in making documentaries toured UK cinemas last year. In a London cinema they had a Q&A they do at the end of the screening, and Jimmy Edmonds said something striking after an audience member mentioned their struggle with loneliness in their grieving process. Jimmy said that in Victorian times it was common and completely normal to talk about death, dying and grief, but it was taboo to talk about sex, and how today it is the complete opposite.
I personally am tired of being swamped with sex images, sex talk, sex this, sex that… and THE inevitable that WILL come to ALL of us, Death, dying and grief is avoided like the pest! And when a loss finally hits us, we hang on a string fighting for life itself as we can’t cope with the onslaught of grief and shock! We were never taught about death and grief being PART of LIFE! We avoided it, we silence it to death, we treat it as if it is an evil to be shunned!
My own grief was very loud from the get go because of how my brother’s death was communicated, was unclear and was handled! Within weeks and after his funeral, flying back and forth, running errands, taking care of family, but still forced to work, I very quickly went to my doctor. I ask for help early on with referral to counseling, as I knew immediately this was too much to handle on my own or just with friends. It was too big for friends as well of course who soon withdrew. I had to hold it up for my family, remained strong until I broke. And we all went lost, each in our journey. And as I acquainted myself to loss and shock after shock, I buried my dad 3 years after my brother.
What I went through at work in Pret A Manger, I write about extensively on this blog and don’t want to go into, except to say for any new reader that I was bullied during bereavement, which I speak about in detail in the audio player at the bottom of this page and all over my website. But I don’t want to get into this too much in this blog entry here, and want to concentrate on the “gag order on grief” that Megan Devine so poignantly describes.
With everything that unfolded with my brother’s death and the added nightmare at work, my grief was 95% pure anger! I went into a mix of autopilot, functioning like a machine I was conditioned in for so long, the anger turned inward as I felt a huge burden of guilt to have let my brother down. And yet I was crying out for help in all the places from mental health institutions, friends, work, online bereavement groups … everywhere I went I mostly met a brick wall of silence or helplessness, and being passed on to another organization. The online bereavement groups frustrated me because all of them were widows who, many of them lost their partners 10, 20 years ago. But here I was having learned about my brother’s death weeks before and had to listen to widow’s experiences. With all the added stress at work, I went on an emailing-spree like a mad-man goes on a shooting-spree. No-one’s fault.
All the complications that grief and loss brings I went into head first, full force! I was like a headless chicken running around trying to make sense of what happened and all the added turmoil at work. A Twilight Zone opened up, like I was dropped in a land full of aliens and stumbled through a mental war zone, trying to figure out who my ally was. “Enemies” popped up at work. And in a fog I tried to navigate through a mine field where my presence became an inconvenience for my superiors. There was no friendly fire, no accidental shot, there was real ambush and the fight for survival in a toxic work environment.
Workplace bullying is already a hostile attack on ones dignity, but going through this during grief, I can only say that in the beginning ignorance was bliss! As I was in shock and turmoil, and even though I felt early on I was targeted, I kept going while mixing it up, blaming my turmoil on my grief.
My friends became overwhelmed and I don’t blame them. I worked in Pret surrounded by food with daily free food allowance, but lost 25kg in the first 6 months of bereavement. I was overweight but lost 35 – 40kg within a year, as I couldn’t eat and only forced myself half a baguette or one banana a day. I stood on my feet for 6 – 10 hours a day and went for walks hours after work. I couldn’t stop walking, like I was looking for my brother or trying to escape the mine field. I don’t know how I survived, but I felt “intoxicated” with adrenaline to get to the bottom of what happened and punished myself with questions of why I let my brother down!
Friends were at a loss, and all I always tried to say to people: You can’t and shan’t fix things! But please also don’t be scarce! You don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do, so let’s do the unknown together… But neither of us could.
It’s just in other words how Megan Devine in above episode says:
»I feel like I’m more able to have no answers for things than I used to be. I like to believe that I’ve always been pretty good at holding space for whatever is going on for somebody, both as a friend and [professionally]. What’s different in my own grief [and others’] is, I’m okay to have no response at all other than my presence.«
In their own helplessness some blamed me, and I had to come up with my own empathy for my friends and understanding for a multi-million pound company! One thought always came to mind early on, when I tried to function as if nothing happened, I always thought in my utter loss and shock, “If in grief, comfort your friends”. But I still don’t know how to do that.
Death will come to all of us. Grief already has. And everyone grieves differently and in different times, length and depth, but whatever everyone’s coping mechanism or culture may be, grief cannot be silenced and my survival is to be loud.
The wind does blow
today my bro
A few small drops
I’ll never have
such a brother again
In a cold grave
his ashes remain
I’d do as much
for my true blood
as any sibling may
I’ll sit and mourn
all at his thought
Forever and a day
The months and all these days
the dead began
Oh, who sits weeping
at the thought of me
and will not
let me sleep
It’s me my brother
who weeps at your fate
and will not let you sleep
I crave one hint
of what occurred to you
and that is all I seek
You crave one hint
of what occurred to me
the truth may be
If you’ve one hint from my
cold grave, sis
your time may not
I ponder and wander to the
past so green
and go where we used to play
The finest mem’ry
that has ever been
is broken down to clay
My live has turned to dust
so will our hearts decay
So make yourself
content, little sis
till God calls you away
In memory of my big brother Thomas
Text: “Unquiet Grave” originated in the 1400s
Adapted “Unquiet Grief”: poetrasblok.com
Music: Kris Drever / LAU
I worked at Pret A Manger for almost 10 years and survived systemic workplace bullying during bereavement that involved HR, the top leadership, HQ and even the now “retired” former CEO Clive Schlee. I declined 4 settlement offers if I am silent about my ordeal. But I rather starve and speak out to help others. For an overview of important blog entries of my experience with Pret, please visit “My Ordeal with Pret A Manger”. The little arrow to the right next to each heading will lead directly to the post.
I tell my story for the first time verbally in below audio player interview on a podcast by The Adam Paradox, and wrote an article in the Scottish Left Review.
Thank you for reading/listening.
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