“Good morning” is perhaps the most common greeting we hear every day. We say it without even realizing we have spoken. It is a universal greeting that expresses hope and optimism, but often is not a part of our conscious speech. It can also be a command of sorts, “Have a good morning.” Yet, there are sometimes when I am not in the mood for a good morning.
Some days I still hurt, and so do you. The trouble is when we are hurting, no one seems to recognize it or even care. Maybe that’s because you and I have learned to wear a mask. The bereaved have long ago learned of the importance and necessity for masks, and we are very talented in creating masks that rival the best of the Halloween costumes we cherished as children.
We learn quickly that no one wishes to know how we “really are.” Oh, people ask; they dutifully inquire about our well being with such polite phrases as, “Hi, how are you?” Or, “How are things going?” Sometimes they ask the question with a built-in answer: “You’re doing okay, aren’t you?”
Are we all afraid to recognize pain? Are we afraid to speak of hurt in such honest terms, or are we simply unaware of the length of time that healing requires? Have we truly become the “Fast-Food, Fast-Forward” society where microwaves and e-mail have replaced homemade brownies and handwritten notes?
Even when someone does ask, “How are you?” their footsteps carry them quickly away before I can even think of an “appropriate” response. Does anyone care anymore, or have we run out of time for caring?
I’m bereaved, and there are days when I want to share that and days when I don’t. But no one can tell the difference because I have learned to wear the mask and to always look the same, regardless of what is dwelling just beneath my surface smile. I have learned, as we all do, to smile quickly and to turn away slightly when tears threaten to spill down the cheek. The mask is in place.
I don’t want to wear a mask anymore. I have run out of energy to pretend that I am fine when I’m not and to smile even when my heart is breaking inside. Maybe bereaved people should limp a bit on those days when we feel scattered or shattered or hurt or empty inside. Maybe we should recognize the depths of the wounds that grief inflicts instead of trying to soothe the rest of the world. I’ve noticed that people are nicer to those who limp a bit. We hold doors open for them. We offer them a seat on the bus. People who limp a little seem to get more sympathy and understanding than I do in my grief. I’m not asking for a lot of sympathy—in fact, maybe none. But I would like some comprehension that grief isn’t something you “get over” quickly (or ever).
I’d like to let people know that I still am capable of moments of extreme pain, even years after a loved one has died. I want the freedom to hurt and to heal, both publicly and privately. I don’t want to have to limp in order to have a kinder, gentler world at my door.
I just want to be, whatever I am, wherever I am. No more masks—just me trying to hang on one more day. I want a sign, an outward symbol of my bereavement, so others will know that I am bereaved, not crazy or sick. I want something to wear that will tell everyone I am working my way through a terrible hurt.
In the “old days” black armbands were worn to acknowledge one’s bereavement. Some cultures still wear a piece of torn cloth to symbolize the tear in the family fabric that death causes. Some communities still place a black wreath on the door of a grieving family so others may know of their hurt and offer their support rather than their curiosity. I want a sign that says, “I’m Bereaved” and I want a hug.
Since signs and masks are too cumbersome, I’ve found the perfect symbol. You’ve seen it on lapels everywhere, in many different colors, each carrying a special message. I’ve found a Grief Awareness Pin that is a simple and dignified way to saying, “I’m bereaved.” It is a small, simple black-enamel ribbon pin, similar to the ones you’ve seen in red (for AIDS awareness), pink (for breast cancer) and green (for organ donation). This one is black for bereavement, and it is outlined in gold to represent the spirit that lives and shines forever like a star in the summer sky. Black for grief and gold for hope…a perfect symbol for our grief! It can be worn anywhere, anytime you want to recognize and honor your grief. Awareness ribbons have become a universal symbol of support and compassion, and those who wear them become members of a universal family of understanding. What a terrific way to create a community of support! No longer will grieving people have to limp a little in order to receive some small amount of care and support.
Grief doesn’t end at the funeral or the cemetery! You don’t stop loving someone just because they died. Why should the bereaved try to hide their sorrow just because the rest of the world can’t stand to see them hurt?
Let’s create openness and tolerance and understanding of the universality of grief and a willingness to be present for each other. Whenever you see someone wearing a black Mourning Pin you will know that a life has been lived and loved and that sorrow isn’t a weak or negative face. No more masks, please. Let grief have its place among the living as a symbol of how much you loved.
Grief doesn’t end at the funeral. In fact, it’s just beginning and we are going to need all the hugs and hope and help we can get. Lend me some support. Lend me some hope, but please don’t ask me to give you a smile I don’t have or a face I cannot wear. In time, I will smile again and I will be “fine,” but right now this little black ribbon says, “I’m bereaved,” and I have earned the right to grieve. Entire communities have worn this ribbon to show support for those caught in the web of pain and sorrow that bereavement brings. Individuals can wear the Mourning Pin whenever they wish to acknowledge their grief: anniversaries, special days or every day.
We are all fellow strugglers on the path, but grief is a journey that does not have to be traveled alone. Wear the black ribbon pin to support those who grieve or to acknowledge your own bereavement. You will not be alone. We are a universal family, broken by death, but mended by love.