Whitewashing and grief: Be honest about the heartache
By RICK ALVEY, Reid Health Chaplain
I honestly don't remember much of what I read when I was younger and still in school, but one image is very memorable and permanently etched in my mind. It's from Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."
Tom Sawyer, an orphan, lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother Sid in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, Mo., sometime in the 1840s. A fun-loving boy, Tom skips school to go swimming and is made to whitewash his aunt's fence for the entirety of the next day, Saturday, as punishment.
What sticks out to me from this story is how Tom tries to convince his friends of how much fun he's having in an attempt to get them to take over the work of whitewashing the fence. I'll admit I've taken the same approach when trying to get my kids to eat certain vegetables when they were younger.
Whitewashing a fence or some other physical structure has great value as it helps to extend the object's life, but whitewashing can be a negative thing when we try to take an ugly or unpleasant situation and treat it as if it's not really that bad. Another term we use for this is "candy coating."
Grief is undoubtedly one of the most ugly and unpleasant experiences of life that we often tend to whitewash or candy coat. Our society can get preoccupied with keeping up appearances, maintaining the status quo, and covering up problems as if this will somehow make things better.
"We want everything to be glossed over," Rev. John Coulombe observes. "We want everything to be gilded with gold. We think it should be tidy and nice." But life is not "tidy and nice," and pretending it is will only hinder your healing process and perhaps make it longer.
Be honest with the heartache of losing your loved one and keep taking steps to work through your grief. It's a journey that takes time and is more like a marathon than a sprint. Adjusting to life without your loved one will likely happen slowly.
If it gets overwhelming at times, take a break with a favorite pastime. Activities such as going out to eat with a friend, watching a favorite movie/TV show, or working on projects around the house can be a chance to catch your breath from the hard work of grieving. Once you've regained some balance or energy, start back at working through your grief.
Reid Health offers outpatient mental health counseling services for those suffering from anxiety and depression. To get connected with someone who can help, visit our website for more information.