Are you a “Neat Freak” or a “Messy Bessie” in your grief? When losses occur in your life (due to death, loss of good health, job loss, relationship break-ups, financial struggles, etc.) do you expect your response (i.e. grief) to be orderly and predictable or do you immerse yourself in the chaos of grief?
If you are a “Neat Freak” you expect grief to follow a certain path. You cling to “stage theories” of grief such as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of dying (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). You believe this is a road map to a sequential order of grief (even though these stages were never really meant to be stages of grief). You are convinced that if you deviate from this plan then you are not grieving normally or are stuck in denial.
Neat freaks expect a certain amount of uniformity to grief, assuming everyone grieves in the same pattern. In your quest for an orderly and predictable grief you don’t take into account personality, family dynamics, culture, religious or philosophical beliefs, gender roles, loss history, or other important factors.
Neat freaks expect grief to take a certain amount of time and then be done. You might say “I should be over it by now,” not realizing that in many ways grief takes a lifetime. There’s no set end date to grief. Grief lingers.
If you are a “Messy Bessie” you begin to define yourself by the messes that surround you. You get so caught up in the chaos of grief that seeking a way out of the mayhem seems impossible. You see the chaos as an end and not a means to an end. You get so comfortable in your mess that it becomes a way of life even though it is unhealthy.
Messy Bessies don’t learn that one of the jobs of a griever is to find a “new normal.” Grief is messy, for sure. Things will be in disarray for a while as we struggle to incorporate the loss in our lives. But we must be careful not to get stuck in the maelstrom.
Grief impacts all areas of our lives (jobs, relationships, physical health, etc.). Everything gets messed up when we grieve. This state of commotion can become a modus operandi if we don’t recognize the need to eventually emerge from the mess, stained but clean enough.
In grief, we are called to be neither a “Neat Freak” nor a “Messy Bessie.” We must say Yes to the messiness of grief so we can fully enter into the grieving process, knowing it will be a complex and unpredictable venture. We know our grief won’t look exactly like our friend, spouse, or child’s grief. We realize grief work is never completely done and our grief will hit us in waves when we least expect it, even years after a loss. We must accept this messiness. If we try to organize, compartmentalize, or accurately predict our grief trajectory we will find ourselves suffering another loss – not achieving our unrealistic expectation of “getting over it.” This will only add to our grief and delay our healing.
I recently saw these words on a church bulletin board: “You can’t get to spring until you go through winter.” That’s how grief is. We need to experience our messy grief winter – the cloudy days full of fear and uncertainty; the cold, lonely nights; the slush of mixed emotions - if we ever expect to rejoice in our grief spring when the seeds of our grief work will begin to blossom into life-giving and beautiful creations.
Grieve well . . . Live well!
Cheryl Amari, M.A., C.T.
Grief Educator & Consultant
GriefTeach Founder & Owner
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Copyright 2014, Cheryl Amari