By Tom Golden
I was walking through the woods the other day completely merged with the sound of the wood thrush when suddenly my left foot twisted under me as I stepped on a root jutting out in the path. I felt it starting to twist and relieved it by taking all of my weight off of that foot and thereby tumbling unceremoniously to the ground. After a slightly bruised pride and a few choice words I was once again enjoying my walk.
Ever since I broke that left ankle years ago I have had to be especially careful and gentle with it. I am aware that it is one of my weak spots and demands my special attention.
Most of us are aware of our weak spots in our body. Maybe it is our ankle or wrist or some other part. Possibly a sensitivity to the sun or cold weather or maybe to a certain food. We all have weak spots in our bodies but did you know that we also have weak spots in our psyches? These places have many functions and reactions but our interest for this column is how they affect our grief.
You might imagine the psyche as a rope hammock. The grid of rope varies in different places. In some spots it is a tight mesh and in others there may be larger holes. Our weak spots are where the large holes are. This is where things flow in and out with ease. This is not such a bad thing. If we had no weak spots we would be too “defended.” Too tight! You might think of an infant who has very few defenses. Their hammock is pretty loose!! As we grow our grid gets tighter and hopefully maintains some of its original flexibility. Maturity requires we use both tight and loose in the right places.
When a strong grief strikes us there are times and places where we have very little control over the outflow of our grief. It comes spontaneously of its own accord without any invitation. When we experience a strong grief such as this our hammock grid of loose and tight becomes clear. We can begin to see where things will pour through. The spots where things pour through are what we are calling “weak spots.” Unlike other paths we use in healing ourselves these “weak spots” require no safe places. They could care less where you are or what you are doing. They will spill forth wherever and whenever they wish. There are no ropes in the grid to hold them back. For some people a weak spot may be seeing a certain item in the grocery store, for others it might be a certain song. That item in the grocery brings forth a flood of grief that pours forth without our volition. In a strong grief reaction we can see these vulnerable spots by the way the grief pours through without our consent or invitation. These are the places that our tears will spill forth without any request whatsoever. These are our weak spots.
These weak spots can be many and varied. For some folks they may be associated with a sense like hearing, taste, or smell. Often people in a strong grief reaction will find that one particular sense will be a channel for floods of grief. For some, certain songs have this power, or possibly the sound of the persons voice on a tape or video. For others the sense of smell may be the source of the grief pouring through.
A friend of mine whose daughter died found that the song “Amazing Grace” was this type of “open window” into his grief. Every time he hears this song the tears flow and flow. A couple whose young child died unexpectedly have this sort of reaction to the smell of roses. When they smell roses they are transported to a place where the intensity of the loss pours through. Interestingly for them the smell of roses arises sometimes spontaneously.
For others it may occur when they are involved in activities that they usually don’t like, tend to avoid, or feel inadequate while doing. For some people this is when they are doing something very practical like vacuuming or cooking, for others types of people it might be related to their thinking activities, and for others it might be related to planning their future or daydreaming about possibilities. For many people the weak spots are associated with the areas in their life where they tend to play and have fun.
Everyone has a different vulnerable place….and most of us are not limited to one. If you think back to the early stages of your loss when the pain was fresh and highly unpredictable you may remember the places your pain flowed through without any warning or intention. It may have had to do with being around people or possibly with being alone. Think of your own experience and remember the places for you that brought floods of grief. Knowing these places is not simply an academic exercise. By knowing these spots we can help protect ourselves when we are most vulnerable. We can have at least a small degree of foresight that we may be bombarded through this particular place. It also can hopefully give us a deeper understanding of ourselves and a more forgiving response to these floods and floodettes. By knowing our nature and the paths that floods of feelings may flow we can bless and prepare ourselves.
It is obvious that when we are acutely surrounded with grief it can be of help to know these paths. At these times we need ways to “keep our head above water” and find any thing stable to hold on to for added stability. Knowing these paths may give us a little more stability.
There are other reasons to know these paths. It is not uncommon for people later in grief to experience periods when there is a need to emote but the emotions simply will not come. People feel the pressure of the grief, the dark moods that hover over us when we are burdened with a great deal of unexpressed grief but we cannot find a way to funnel the emotion out of the body. It is at this time that knowing these paths can be of extreme help. This is the time for my friend to play “Amazing Grace.” He can now choose to play this song and consciously and intentionally enter into his weak spot. By doing this he will allow the emotion (his tears) a path to be released and therefore bring him towards transformation and healing. Knowing that this is a path for the grief to flow easily can be used to our advantage. We can make conscious use of our “weakness” in order to release the emotions that otherwise seem quite stuck.
Our previously mentioned friends might want to go and buy and smell some roses. The smell of the roses which previously may have brought an unwanted wave of emotion may at this time help them in connecting to emotions that are stagnantly waiting to be released. Others might want to vacuum.
What would be helpful to you?
Tom Golden is a professional speaker, author, and psychotherapist whose area of specialization is healing from loss and trauma. Tom gives workshops across the country and in Canada on many aspects of this topic. His workshops are known to be both entertaining and informative. Contact Tom at the addresses below (email or snail mail) for inquiries about speaking or training for your group. You can also place secure orders on webhealing.com for Tom’s book Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing. Tom Golden LCSW, 149 Little Quarry Mews, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20878, USA, 301 670-1027