When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all. Oh, and I still do the odd one, by special request.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Grieving by the book

Jennifer Saunders' new TV sitcom, Jam & Jerusalem, is about a "Women's Guild" (code for WI) in a West Country village populated by eccentrics.

Sue Johnston plays Sal, the practice nurse in the local health centre, whose husband is the GP. He dies, and her doctor son takes over the practice and makes her redundant. Sounds very gloomy, but it's comedy with pathos.

Anyway, the scene that interested me was when Sal is visited by a "bereavement counsellor". She's taken to sleeping in the dog's basket since her husband died, but apart from that she's being stoical. When a young woman turns up uninvited on her doorstep and tells her she's from "the grieving group", and she's come to help, Sal politely invites her in for a coffee. The counsellor burbles on about how she must be feeling, and the stages of grieving. Sal denies that she's grieving in the order the counsellor suggests she ought to be; she says she thinks she's skipped a few stages, and gone straight to melancholy. Oh no, protests the counsellor, you have to do it in the right order! Sal suddenly realises that the young women is a widow herself. When she asks if she is, the young woman bursts into tears. It seems she's been a widow for five years and is stuck in one of the "stages". Sal comforts her weeping guest, and gives her some advice. Not to worry about "stages", but to set aside an hour a day for grieving, if she must. Otherwise, she must get a new hairdo and buy a new top, and enjoy herself.

There was a strong element of truth in the scene. I've heard people talk about "stages of grieving" and thought it's all nonsense. Everyone grieves in their own way; some quietly, some not so quietly. I've had people ask, "How long will I feel like this?", as though there's a set limit. People can be taken by surprise by a sudden rush of emotion, when they'd thought they had it "under control". The philosopher Prof A C Grayling wrote, "We do not get over losses; we merely learn to live with them." Sal was right - get a new hairdo, buy a new top, and avoid wallowing in stages.

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