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Grieving On Schedule?

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It’s the end of October. Midterms may be done, but there’s still half a semester to go. Papers pile up, emails are no longer fun to read, and there’s always another assignment to do. On top of that, my job schedules me on the days I could get major studying done. My life revolves around my planner.

Then I get a text. I think: no big deal. The text is probably from a friend trying to convince me to buy a Halloween costume. I am wrong. It’s from Aunt Robin stating that Granny’s health is deteriorating and I should visit her before the traditional Thanksgiving gathering. Still, my thoughts revolve around school and work for a little bit. I look to my planner as if it’s the Bible and feel conflicted, as the chances of finding time to squeeze in a visit before the New York trip seem slim to none. Then I realize my selfishness, throw the planner into the back seat, and drive to Moody (North of Tahlequah) the next day.

How did I dare to put my loved ones second? It’s in my generation’s bloodstream. We want to have as much control over our lives as possible. Work, despite its mood swings, stays stern with its expectations. People are unpredictable, and in a speeding society, other people's lives and needs don’t mesh well with the plans that have been forced on us or the ones we make for ourselves.

I wonder if society will come to the point where we know only our immediate family. No aunts, no cousins, and no grandparents. What if my mother had stayed so busy that she never took us to the annual Thanksgiving feast or the Easter hunt held at Granny’s house every year? It’s those traditions that I can always count on every year. It’s the only way I know who my second cousins even are.

I wonder what it would be like to truly have family be the focus of my entire life. I’m not sure if I could do it. I’ve always been the ambitious one, willing to move away from them for whatever comes next, yet I expect my family to be there for me. My mother’s side always has.

Mom and I lived at Granny’s house for two periods of time. The first time was when I was born, with my dad stationed in Germany and mom needing a place to stay for four months until we were able to move into base apartments in Frankfurt. There’s a professional picture with me as a newborn, Mom, Papa Johnson, and Granny that was taken in that time period. The second time was after their divorce when I was three years old. I don’t have a straight story on who divorced whom because each blamed the other, but I do know that after the papers were signed Mom and I moved back to the states. My mother had not worked for three years at that point (my dad has always, in his marriages, had his wives not work) and she needed to take care of me. She tried to go back to school, but the school system had no mercy for single mothers back then, and also I was diagnosed with autism at that point.  She dropped out so she could hold a job to support us and move out.

Schools, colleges, and businesses should be more flexible with people when it comes to the death of a loved one. The policy when I worked for the American Red Cross stated that I could have three days off if the funeral location made it necessary to travel. College will not prevent me from going to funerals, but the assignments won’t stop to wait for me either. If real grieving is required, one needs to consider taking a semester off, and that’s not fair.

Our ancestors were allowed to grieve for up to a year. Sometimes it was marked by extreme measures such as shaving one’s head, but the point is, they realized that not only is it normal to grieve, it’s necessary. Yet in this fast-paced world, everyone pretends that grieving doesn’t exist.

There should be an allowance for grieving time off from both work and school. Employees should be allowed to take a month off, separate from their normal personal days, with pay, plus at least three counseling sessions offered for free. Colleges should allow two weeks of excused absences, offer students counseling before they return to class, and offer free private tutoring until the student is caught up (the cost could be covered by a student fee).

High schools and younger should offer the same deal as colleges except require even more counseling to make sure the student has an opportunity to grieve normally. If time off is sincerely not an option for certain businesses, colleges, or schools, then counseling needs to be the focus to allow the person to grieve normally. All at this point should give the person at least one month of free counseling and then evaluate him or her at the end of the month to see what actions need to be taken next.

I will always remember my Granny because she was, and still is, a strong woman with a good heart. She is very competitive, which she certainly passed down to me and the rest of her family – it’s her house where games were usually held. I have a scar on my right leg from a spoons match in which neither of us wanted to let go and we broke the table, scratching my leg. She also likes to cheat, especially when playing a board game called Trouble, and every game, if we win, she swears we skipped holes.

She is 92, so I’ll be prepared when these next couple of days steal her last breath, but I still want to grieve over this great woman. I just don’t want to do it on somebody else’s schedule.

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  • Baronius

    Brunette – This is a very well-written article. A couple of notes about grieving: the stages happen in no particular order, and they come and go as they please. The schematic of grief as organized stages is a bit overrated. Grief amounts to unrealistic highs and unrealistic lows.

    When the anger comes, it’ll be point-blank visceral. You can’t prepare yourself for it, but don’t act on it (I’m convinced that most family conflicts surrounding wills stem from grieving anger.)