Come on Larry – Take a shot

This was my way of defusing the anxiety in the room. Normally when the tequila came out at a gathering of hockey parents Larry’s shot glass would be full. This time it was different. He was receiving chemotherapy for bowel cancer, and while it was obvious that Larry would not be taking a shot, there was an elephant in the room. Before we tipped back our shot glasses I called out: “Wait Wait Wait – Come on Larry don’t be a wuss take a shot.” Larry smiled from ear to ear as his wife gave me a good “fun-spirited” talking to.

Larry lost his battle with cancer this week.

Larry was truly a special person. He was loved by all in the community, especially the school community where he served as the head caretaker. It is a community that is now in sorrow.

There is a predominant view of grief in Western Society that grief must be processed in stages. This thinking has its roots in Freudian Theory. Freud proposed that an individual could only overcome feelings of sadness over the death of a loved one by carrying out “grief work”. Modern ideas on grief work involve processing emotions through five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. If a person displays emotions of pride, cheerfulness or optimism or has the appearance of being in good spirits it can be labeled as a pathological denial of grief.

The idea that people are naturally resilient in the face of death challenges the conceptual framework that grief must be processed in stages. George Bonanno, professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, is a pioneering researcher in the field of bereavement and trauma. In research for his book, “The Other Side of Sadness”, Bonanno found that the emphasis on having people talk or cry about the loss of a loved one can actually intensify feelings of grief.  Bonanno’s research shows that genuine laughter and smiling is a healthy response to loss and that the absence of grief symptoms is a healthy outcome rather than something to be feared.

Rather than viewing grief as something to be processed in stages, Bonnano describes grief as being experienced in waves in which an individual has periods of loss-orientated thinking, alternating with periods of restoration. I like the idea of viewing grief in this way,  no stages, but rather waves of sadness and loss that break into waves of happiness and gratitude. We don’t have to ride these waves alone. Family and friends coming together, no matter the various “stages” of grief we may be in, can help each other navigate the emotional seas.

Here’s to Larry – one hell of a wave maker!