Saturday, November 07, 2009

Grief, again

About a year ago now I found myself writing about grief on my blog. Here we go again.

This morning I have to host a "Command Breakfast" -- a tradition started by the unit which we're replacing. The Battalion Commander (BC) wants all his primary staff Officers and NCOs to show up once a month for a breakfast together in the DFAC. The Chaplain runs things, but because it's a Command function, it's not an overtly sectarian, religious event.

I found out two days ago that Task Force Sabre is having their last Command Breakfast this morning; I found out yesterday that *I'm* doing it.

So, in a few moments I'll be going over to the DFAC to smuggle in my portable iPod speakers ("No Packs of Any Kind in the DFAC!" the signs proclaim on all the doors) so that I can play a snippet from Handel's "Messiah": He was despised. (I've always been moved by the lyrics and music from that aria, especially when sung by a very rich alto voice.)

The Scriptural quotation on which that aria is based can be found in my earlier post, last year.

After playing the last section of the piece (the recapitulation; there's not time for the whole thing), I'm going to talk about grief. This seems especially timely, given the massacre at Ft. Hood this week. It's also timely for me, because I find myslf reliving the afternoon and evening last spring when we had five murders on Camp Liberty in Iraq.

I only have ten minutes to speak, so here's what I plan to tell them:

1) Grief is not a mental illness.
2) Grief is not about what's lost, but about our *relationship* to the loss.
3) Every new grief brings up every old grief.

I know it may seem odd (at first) to be talking about grief with Troops who are going to return home in the very near furture, but I believe it's really important to do so. Redeploying troops tend to have lots of expectations -- many of them hidden to themselves and others.

I have learned from my friends who go to a lot of Al-Anon meetings that expectations are premeditated resentments.

Write that down. Post it on the fridge and/or on the mirror in your bathroom.

Expectations are premeditated resentments.

The reason this is important in the context of grief is that unmet expectations are liable to be the occasion of grief -- and each new grief brings up every old grief.

This goes a long way toward explaining why seemingly inconsequential things can be the occasion for a tsunami of feeling: the grief over an unmet expectation (it's about the relationship, not about the thing) brings up the pent-up grief from before, and sometimes from a whole lifetime.

Grief is not a mental illness; it just feels like one.

So redeploying Soldiers are probably just as susceptible to experience grief as anyone else. The situation gets complexified because the Soldiers returning home (as well as the family/friends waiting there) expect joy and relief, not the emptiness of sadness and loss.

Let's not kid ourselves: There's lots of sadness and emptiness and loss involved in a deployment away from family and familiar surroundings. To return and find people/situations changed (or not!) can be very disheartening!

All of this is the stuff of grief.

I firmly believe that the military needs to do a much better job identifying grief for what it is, and mentoring personnel in how to move into and through grief, in order to get beyond it. At least for a while.

Because every new grief brings up every old grief.

And then we get to do it all over again.

It's not a mental illness; it just feels like one.

Go listen to Handel and have a good cry.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

View My Profile


Unknown said...

Thank you for writing your understandings of grief. I have had many events in my fairly long life generating grief, and your words express my experience quite well. Thank you again!

seg said...

Tim, I disagree with your premise in your post. The way I read it, the premise is when expectations are not reached, grief follows and every new grief brings up the old grief. And you say "Expectations are premeditated resentment". My disagreement lies in the underlying thought behind the premise: A person expects good things to happen to them.
No one owes anyone anything in this life. If something good happens to you, it is a blessing--if something bad happens, that is life. Life is hard work and disappointment. That is why Jesus promises hope--no matter how bad things are here, Jesus is always there. He doesn't promise life will be easy-life is not easy. I think parents for the past 40 years have done a disservice to their kids who have now grown up to be spoiled adults. These adults have learned from childhood "they are the best ever" and hurt should not happen to them and failure is not allowed. Now these adults learn life does not care if they are "special" and the adults can't handle it. They think they are the only ones who have ever suffered and had pain in their lives because they have never read history or biographies of our forefathers. "Expectations are premeditated resentments"? Only when you are not mature enough to handle disappointment.

Powered By Ringsurf