Complex radical something, in simple terms

As I returned to work this past week, I thought I was the only one crying every day.

Turns out I wasn’t.

Do you know how many different types of grief there are? There are a lot. Complicated, anticipatory, chronic, delayed, distorted, secondary, masked, collective. Oh, and normal. (There’s more, but I got tired of typing them. Grief is tiring.)

I found lists of types of grief when I went looking for information about “complex grief”–a term I thought I’d read somewhere along the way–but that seems to be the same as “complicated grief,” which is what mental health professionals use for grief so long-lasting and severe that it interferes with normal functioning.

I didn’t find a word for the kind I’ve been seeing and feeling, not just at work but all around me. I wanted a word for the grief that comes from bearing witness to all the varied types of grief being carried in those surrounding you, while carrying your own, while still carrying on with what is expected of you. If there were, I suspect a lot of us would be suffering from it.

I spent too much time on Friday and Saturday trying to write about this, but the draft I labored over has too many words. They exhaust me. (I took a long, deep nap on Saturday afternoon.)

The grief isn’t just about schools and teaching. It’s not just about the pandemic. It’s all of it, the whole big ball of change and instability.

Friday night I watched a pre-2010 romcom, something I’ve been doing throughout this summer. These movies fill me with nostalgia for a pre-smartphone world. They fill me with nostalgia for a time when I took for granted things I didn’t even know I had, that I now know the contours of through the spaces made by their absence. I see many of those things in the subtext of these movies that are silly and unrealistic and fun and oblivious to so many, many things. (They are a lot like pre-2010 me.)

I watch them to escape. I watch them also to ground myself in what’s real now. I watch the beautiful (almost always white) actors and actresses (can we still use “actress”? probably not) who were born in the same decade I was dance their way through familiar cinematic choreography, and, in the cases when something in the plot hinges on communication that is not face-to-face, send an email or whip out a flip-phone and talk, and I cannot pretend that we are not now living in a fundamentally different time. The things that were so vitally important to them! The sources of their anguish! While watching, I usually Google the cast of the movie so I can see what they look like now. They almost all look old now in the ways I do, their beauty fading or faded. (My god, we were so beautiful! Why can’t we see, when we are young, how beautiful we are?) On my phone I see the physical manifestation of time passed, which grounds me in the truth that the era in which those movies were made and made sense is not the one in which I’m currently living.

I think the romcoms are part of my attempt to embrace radical acceptance. The opposite of radical acceptance is denial, and that’s a road I’ve followed to far more poor life choices than I’d like to admit.

Radical acceptance of the world we’re living in now is painful, but not as painful as it is to fight the world as though we’re still living in the one we once had (or thought we did).

Radical acceptance is bringing me a kind of peace and calm I’ve never experienced before.

Peace and calm does not mean I’m OK. It does not mean I’m happy. It does not mean I am without pain. (It comes with pain, but the right kind.)

It does mean I am no longer beating my head against walls that will not be moved by my brain splatter.

Radical acceptance might look like defeat, but I’m finding it brings a different kind of power that is keeping me in the fight.

On the last day of the first week of my return to school/work, I didn’t cry once. This felt like progress. Educator friends and I posted funnynotfunny comments on FB about using crying as a metric in setting our annual professional goals.

This is how we are going to get through. Community. Empathy. Humor. Truth-telling. It’s how people have always gotten through hard times, though some of us have lived such fortunate lives thus far that we haven’t had to learn that until now.

My colleague friends and I will all write official goals that won’t matter much to the real work we’ll be doing this year. That we’ll have to do that doesn’t really matter. What matters is creating real strategies for meeting this time we’re in.

There’s a lot I don’t know any more, but these are my goals, driven not by any set of data but by what I need to do good for those I serve:

Know what’s true.

Own my truth.

Take care of myself.

Love my people.

That’s it. It’s enough.

12 thoughts on “Complex radical something, in simple terms

  1. Omeica Hudson says:

    I love you so much and hope to get to the place of radical acceptance. Im still here
    “… beating my head against walls that will not be moved by my brain splatter.”
    Please keep helping me or at least offering me a helmet! Love you!

    • Rita says:

      Loving my people means that you are part of my real goals for the year. Your brains are too good to waste them on splatter. I can see that we might need to figure out how to get you a really good helmet, though. 😉

  2. TD says:

    I’m glad that you were able to make a post today, Rita. Much wisdom here!

    Were you able to close your work office door at close of business on Friday and get that wonderful commute to home?

  3. Kate says:

    I appreciate your words and these posts so much. I find comfort in the way you so eloquently put words to things I struggled to say. This week, I realized that I, too, need “a word for the grief that comes from bearing witness to all the varied types of grief being carried in those surrounding you, while carrying your own, while still carrying on with what is expected of you”.

    I am not at radical acceptance right now. I find (a lot like and probably in inverse relation to anger) acceptance comes in waves. It makes me very grateful to see your words here as it reminds me that I’ve had moments of that during this experience and that I will get there again.

    • Rita says:

      One of the sources I read said that radical acceptance is a process—not something that happens at once. I’m finding that to be true. I’m also finding that I can’t accept everything all at once. I’ve made a lot of progress on accepting work-related reality that I used to fight, but I’m still working through acceptance of some other things. There’s so much right now that’s not as we want it to be, isn’t there?

      Part of an earlier draft of this post dealt some with anger. I’ve got some more thinking to do about that.

    • TD says:

      It’s certainly a process of two steps forward to acceptance of all grief and then one step backwards because it comes and goes as the tides of time like the tides of the sea. Let it flow naturally for you as you and those around you are all in this same rip current. You are smart and strong, Kate!

  4. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    I read this post last night before bed on my phone but I wasn’t able to comment on my phone. Then I just got on my laptop this afternoon to comment but my literal ADD brain (not figurative, long story) woudn’t let me re-read it all. SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT.
    I completely disconnected my Facebook account on Saturday, so I have no connection to you other than Instagram. I know my private group is still intact, I believe. My husband is still on Facebook and I asked him to check and he said it is still there. I can’t be on Facebook any more because even though I may seem like I am tough, I am not. I am very fragile. So I cannot put myself on there any longer.
    I am so in awe of you. I really am. You are truly on the front lines in so many ways. I know you don’t wish it to be that way. I know you are with me when we both say, it could have been different. So many things to say. All I can say right now is I love you and I am here.
    I don’t have messenger any more but you can reach out to me through Instagram or email and of course, the blog.
    Kari Wagner Hoban recently posted…When Life Hands You Lemons, Throw Them at Your ComputerMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Love to you, Kari. I’m doing OK with FB, but I’m there less and less. Why go there if it only causes distress?

      As for front lines, well…I think there’s lots of different front lines. Your husband is an essential worker. You have a school-age child. You are in the front in ways that I’m not. I’m in awe of all of us. (Maybe not ALL all of us. Some of those people on instragram, maybe not so much. But maybe even them. How can we really know?) Yeah, it could have been different. But it’s not. As our cheetoh in chief let us know, it is what it is.

      Hope you’re doing OK this week.

  5. Marian says:

    “Radical acceptance might look like defeat, but I’m finding it brings a different kind of power that is keeping me in the fight.” This really resonates with me, Rita, in my post-climate-activist-group state of being. I had spent months feeling as though I was beating my head against a wall, and leaving has given me a sense of peace. (I haven’t given up on the cause, but there has to be a way to be an activist that fits with who I am.)

    A few weeks ago I watched the movie You’ve Got Mail. Oh to be back in 1998…

    • Rita says:

      Yep. I think sometimes we have to do the headbeating just so we know we tried, but once it becomes clear that the walls aren’t moving we can see if there might be a way to simply walk around them.

      I love that movie. It’s corny and in some ways horrible, but I love it. I wanted to dress like the Meg Ryan character and live in her apartment and work in that bookstore with those people who worked there. I might have to go watch it again. 1998 is the year my babies were born. I’m glad I didn’t know then what I know now.

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