As a birthday present to myself, and after a recommendation from TTR, I picked up The Grief Recovery Handbook and immediately began reading through. Grief, as discussed in this book, is defined by the opening statement in the first chapter: “Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind.” The authors make no specific distinction about what caused the loss, pointing out the most common (death, divorce, financial change, etc), but they make the point that any major change can cause a loss of some type.
The overall point in the first part of the book is to illustrate that we have all been “socialized to believe that those feelings are abnormal and unnatural.” This should not be the case for anyone as it means that we have not been given the tools necessary to contend with the very real emotional reaction humans have when it comes to loss.
The authors go on to stress that it is no one’s fault that they were never given the necessary resources to recover from their grief. Society as a whole is responsible and the only way to overcome this is to educate ourselves and therefore, eventually, be able to educate others, on how to recover from this.
During my reading, I found a specific section on faith that I found particularly interesting:
In 1969 John’s younger brother died. John remembers being told, “You shouldn’t be angry with God.”
John knew he shouldn’t be angry with God, but he was anyway. No one knew to tell him that anger at God is a typical response to an untimely death. We’ve relied on intellect for years, so we search for understandable reasons for events. When we can’t find a reason, we assign blame to God.
As someone who experienced the loss of their father at a young age, this particular passage made a good deal of sense to me. At the time of his death, I was too young to understand the full cause that resulted in my father’s death. I now know things I couldn’t understand or be told at 7 years of age, so it no longer seems like a reasonless death. But as a child facing the seeming untimely death of their parent, I assigned blame to God.
But placing blame on God for an event that seemed to have no reason is frowned upon. We’re told contradictory things like “God has a plan” and “Don’t be angry with God” and are never really allowed to voice that anger because it is seen as taboo or wrong. To voice our displeasure at God can be downright threatening for some people to hear and in general, such sentiments are shushed into oblivion.
The authors continued this passage with the following:
This anger will pass if we’re allowed to express the feeling. We have to be allowed to tell someone that we’re angry with God and not be judged for it, or told that we’re bad because of it. If not, this anger may persist forever and block spiritual growth. We’ve known people who never returned to their religion because they weren’t allowed to express their true feelings. If this happens, the groover is cut off from one of the most powerful sources of support he or she might have.
To reiterate the point, if we bottle these feelings up because we are either taught to keep them quiet or talked over when we voice them, we may never experience spiritual growth again.
While the above quotes did spark a series of thoughts relating to myself and my father’s death, it was not in fact his death that I first began exploring. I had already know about my anger with God at age seven and have managed to, for the most part, deal with it. My thoughts actually began rolling to when pagans lose their faith and my own experience with it.
For those who have only recently started reading this blog, I used to be an obnoxious “have faith” kind of person. By that, I mean that I loved my gods and my religion. I was here for it everyday and I worked hard to both maintain my faith and towards the common goals my gods had given me. I often thought of my faith as a shining gold blanket, thick and luxurious, and it made me feel comforted and happy. I suspect the reason I was this person is because my mother often told me that she cared not for what religion I followed, as long as I had faith. So, perhaps to overcompensate for the years where I had none, I was full of it.
But in 2016, I began to have a crisis of faith.
A crisis of faith is typically defined as when you seriously question whether what you believe/how you see/what you’re committed to is actually true. If you read editorials from pastors, reverends, and priests, many of them will say that a crisis of faith is a good thing. But while you are on the midst of one, and if your religion doesn’t have spiritual leaders to discuss these issues with, it certainly doesn’t feel like a good thing.
My issue was reciprocity. The word is commonly defined as “mutual exchange” and was a part of the ancient Egyptian religion. It was seemingly practiced by both the upper echelons of ancient Egyptian society and the laity. I felt like the gods were not holding up their end of the bargain.
I had made extensive strides in the areas I had been asked to, but the return I was expecting failed to materialize. It felt very much like the gods had welched on their part of the contract between us and no matter how many times I pointed out that their lack of fulfillment was both upsetting to me and concerning me on their behalf, I typically got the message equivalent of smashing the keys of a keyboard in answer.
When I spoke about my anger at being, seemingly, forsaken, I was told by many that I shouldn’t be angry. I shouldn’t rage and rant at the gods. I should effectively suck it up and keep on going about the work I was already doing because “the gods have a plan”.
Eventually, I brought it up less and less because the voices trying to drown out dissatisfaction and discontent grew steadily louder. Those who once commented on the things I said about being angry disappeared for fear of an eventual dog pile from those who seemed to be threatened by the idea that people could be angry with their gods. The discussions were eventually shushed into oblivion.
These statements and arguments kept cropping up whenever anyone mentioned feeling like I did on the matter and compounded an already stressful situation for me. I’ve come to the conclusion that many who say things similar to what the authors mentioned in the Handbook have taken the same point-of-view of many Christians: the deities are at a higher level than humans and we should simply be content with an occasional glance.
I suspect that people who shout down other polytheists with this negative rhetoric are still very much entrenched by the religious backgrounds they come from. While that is not necessarily their fault if they’ve not been given the means to recover from it, it makes it difficult for people who do not suffer from the same backgrounds or who have been successful in recovering from those previously held beliefs.
I also strongly believe that these same people are scared. They’re terrified of someone upsetting their status quo. And I understand that rocking the boat on the open ocean can be terrifying but sometimes you have to in order to grow.
Whatever the psychological or emotional reason behind this need to shout over the disaffected and grieving, they need to remember that they are speaking to real, living people going through some of their own shit. And they need to keep in mind that, more than likely, what they’re talking over or trying to shut down may in fact negate some of the basic tenets of their polytheistic religion. (Or in the words of Jake the Dog: they need to “go sit in the corner and think about your life.”)
Reciprocity in Christianity culminates in the Golden Rule more often than not. Reciprocity in the ancient Egyptian religion, at least, extends to include the gods and that means that I have a perfectly reasonable expectation to assume I will eventually be given what I have asked for especially after years of faithful service.
The idea that they could not or wouldn’t abide by what I expected threw me into a tailspin. This tailspin was further exacerbated by people who, perhaps thinking they were “helping,” voiced the same types of comments the Handbook authors specifically refer to as detrimental especially when someone is experiencing a loss.
And make no mistake: I was grieving for my loss of faith. I had blindly and lovingly followed for years and now, what I knew to be true about my gods and our relationships was thrown on its head. I could no longer view them with love or faith; I could only see them as capricious beings who were using me or figments of my imagination.
The situation never cleared up for me, not really. I just stopped talking about it, no longer willing to defend myself while I tried to work on my grief at the loss of my faith virtually alone.
2016 was a hard year.
So how do you recover from grief when, seemingly, everyone wants to shut your natural reaction about said grief down? How do you come out the other side, feeling better about it all? I must have done something since I’m back at the religion table again, doing my due diligence and trying to forge ahead as always.
I can say that I’m not sure. In the last three years, I have truthfully spoken to one (1) person about this in an unedited fashion. TTR seemed to be the only one who understood what I was saying, but at the time, they didn’t have all the tools necessary to be much more than the vent hole I needed when I was angry or upset about it. And besides, they too had had their own similar experiences regarding reciprocity and understood things from a similar perspective to my own.
I can truthfully say that I am still grieving. I can often look back at those years where I felt secured in my golden, fluffy blanket of faith and grieve for it all over again. This isn’t always the case, not by a long shot, because sometimes I look back and I am so angry that I once so blindly believed as I did back then.
I was able to at least come to terms with it, which isn’t the same thing as recovering. I was able to come to a point where I still viewed the gods as capricious beings that played games with people like me, but I stopped worrying that I was making it all up, that the omens and signs were coincidental and that I was imagining things.
I’m hoping that my reading of this book may better help me. Thus far it’s taught me what not to say when someone experiences a loss of any kind. The next section appears to be given the steps to come through one’s grief, so perhaps I will eventually be able to say that I have recovered.
Things will, of course, never go back the way they once were. I knew that two years ago when I started to say that I missed having a religion and went back to the gods I knew already. You can’t fill the hole of one’s loss and assume it will be as good as new. The myriad of patch jobs a city does on its potholes is all the physical reminder of this that anyone needs. But like a fresh patch job done well, the hole can at least become functional again for a time before a new patch is needed.
I am hoping the book will give me more than a patch job; maybe stitches to knot the edges of the hole together. I suppose I’ll find out.