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Posts Tagged ‘loss’

The Medicalization of Grief

Posted by E on August 29, 2015

sadness heart tree

We like to think we live in a diverse, tolerant, understanding society, when nothing could be further from the truth. The Cult of Positive Thinking has made it socially-acceptable to be shunned for expressing real emotions: sadness, grief, any manifestation of loss that isn’t perfectly encapsulated by a prescribed set time, after which you are supposed to “move on.” There are craploads of online articles that purport to answer the question “What is normal grief?” (emphasis mine), “What is the difference between grief and clinical depression”, “Grief – What’s Normal and What’s Not?” and “A Helpful Guide to Coping with Grief and Loss” – as though something like this can be easily slotted into a How-To guide. As if, you can grief for a certain period of time, dependant on the degree of closeness to the deceased, and afterwards you’re clinically abnormal if you do.

So what is “normal”? Three to six months for an elderly parent? Nine months for a spouse? One week for a pet?

Leo Dec2011 smallWhen my beloved cat Leo, who was like a child to me, had to be put down in 2012, I could tell that my grief wasn’t socially acceptable. Of course, no one actually came out to say, “It’s just a cat,” but I know that’s what they were thinking. His death affected me viscerally for two years, well past socially-acceptable norms. I didn’t think of Leo’s soul and spirit as a “cat.” He was a family member. But in our world, there is an unspoken denigration of any species other than Homo Sapiens. And in this society, nobody wants to talk about grief. After all, how long are you supposed to grieve a “pet”? A week? Is the loss even considered “serious enough” to take time off work?

What if it was a child? How long are you supposed to grieve, before you are expected to put your best face on and be a “role model” for the world? Years ago, I read about the tragic, violent death of two New York City children murdered by their live-in nanny. Stabbed to death in their bathtub, during bath time, to be precise – a violent and brutal end to lives that never had a chance to bloom. Their mother had kept a meticulous blog of their life, full of wonderful, creative activities – picnics, playdates, the best Manhattan kindergartens money could buy – and when they were murdered, social media swarmed upon those photos. There was a kind of disturbed glee at the fact that someone in an upper-class, $10,000 per month rental apartment, could suffer loss.

But loss always feels the same. Whether you’re in the lowest or highest income brackets, to lose a child – indeed, anyone you love deeply, with all your heart and soul – is the worst ache you can ever experience. And yet the expectation was that, after a certain period of grief (say, a year), the family would move on with their surviving middle child and life would go on. Indeed, they did – they established a foundation and art scholarships in the names of their dead children and nowadays are all about being positive and carrying on the dead kids’ “legacy”.

PROZAC SAMPLE ADI wonder how much of that “positivity” is the result of social expectation. If you “get over” such a tragedy, you’re a role model for “moving forward.” You get to go on talk shows and get applauded for being “strong.” If you don’t, you’re a loser who must be mentally ill. Personally, I couldn’t recover from such a loss. I’d want to die. We all die anyway, right? So why live with pain for another 40+ years (statistically speaking, based on my current age)? How does one recover from such a loss and get to be a poster child for Positive Thinking?

ritalinWe live in a fucked-up world where the DSM-5 (Psychiatry’s Holy Bible) classifies grief as a potentially-abnormal phenomenon, a mental illness to be medicalized and treated with psychotropic drugs (a billion-dollar annual industry) if need be: Prozac, Paxil, Lithium, Ridalin, and everything in between. The meds are only supposed to mask the grief that you’re not supposed to manifest in polite society, to mask the unacceptable pain we all feel but aren’t allowed to speak about.

Don’t make any assumptions about me and my stance on this field, by the way, particularly as my BA was a double major in Criminology and Psychology – essentially both being fields of study focused on classifying human beings as criminals or abnormal – but these days I wonder all sorts of things. I guess it’s understandable, especially since I’m grieving the loss of my own mother.

My mother isn’t dead – not physically, anyway. But for all intents and purposes, she is gone. Taken by a disease worse than cancer and stroke and traffic accidents and all things combined: Alzheimer’s. You see, when a person gets cancer, there is time to grieve and say goodbye. Preparations for departure get made. When it’s a car accident, the initial shock is brutal – but at least you don’t see your loved one in a vegetative state for years, trapped between here and there.

But this horrible, awful thing – nobody gets it. How could we evolve as a society in terms of human rights and technology, yet at the cost of burying our true feelings deeper and deeper?

Sadness is NORMAL. Grief doesn’t have an expiry date – it lasts as long as you feel it in your body. I experienced severe trauma in my first, formative ten years of life. It still affects me today. And it’s certainly not for a lack of counselling or Prozac. But sometimes trauma, grief and sadness can take decades to resolve. And sometimes, a part of it remains with you for life.

And that is perfectly fucking NORMAL.

Iablanita bridge 2

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

I feel like my mother is dead already, but it’s not politically-correct to mourn her yet. People don’t understand when I say that she’s gone, because technically she’s still alive. And I recognise that for as long as she’s alive, it’s socially unacceptable to grieve as though she’s dead.

And yet, she is.

My mother was an awful, abusive, neglecting parent – mostly because her own “mother” didn’t care to raise her and her father had died in her infancy. She grew up wild and feral, with no maternal instincts, and I wasn’t a planned pregnancy. And therefore I too, skinny and alone, raised my own self.

And yet today I feel something I’ve never thought I could ever wish for – that the abusive, unkind person she used to be still existed.

Iablanita bridge

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

Because I could be angry. I could hate her. Because I could try – as ineffectually as it might be – to lash out, and at least attempt to explain how her behaviour affected my life.

But all there is now is a shell – a person with the same DNA, but a body vacant of its spirit. She’s only 70 years old, but early onset Alzheimer’s has taken whatever had remained of her. I’m only grateful that, even though I had a 50-50% chance of inheriting the APOE gene from her (which she tested positive for) as well as from my maternal grandmother who also died of Alzheimer’s, my 23andme results show that I did NOT get the Alzheimer’s gene. Although it’s something that still terrifies me each time I forget someone’s name, each time I have to search my brain for a particular word.

And so yesterday, while visiting her at Mount Sinai hospital, I hand-fed her dinner and couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down my face. Because she is a child now – a child who harmed me in so many ways and will never understand how she has scarred me. But now there is nobody to stand on trial, nobody to hold accountable.

So while I spooned rice, turkey mash and gravy into her shaky mouth, it dawned on me that the person who wounded me is gone. Dead. There is only a small, vulnerable child left in her place. But nobody around me understands this because, for all intents and purposes, this woman is still alive.

So perhaps I’m not supposed to grieve and mourn the death of her. After all, we’re not allowed to mourn the non-dead. To mourn longer than usual. To express any sorts of feelings of raw pain and anguish, of depression and loneliness, because there is no motive. The pain of my childhood is long behind me, right? And my “mother” is not dead. Not clinically, anyway.

And yet, I am.

.

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Posted in death, grief, personal, psychology, sadness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done!

Posted by E on August 22, 2011

Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada and leader of the Official Opposition, has lost his battle with cancer.

It is hard to put into words how significant a loss this is for Canada. Whether you voted NDP or not, Layton was universally admired for his sheer determination and devotion to Canadians — families, gay people, seniors, the impoverished — everyone who needed help. He genuinely believed we could lift each other up and create a fairer society. And he showed us all that when you believe, miracles can happen. The results of the Canadian elections that placed his party in a historically-unparalleled position were the fruits of his vision and hard work — and produced a victory that he only was able to enjoy for three months.

It has been a toxic year tainted by the disgusting spectacle of British politicians rushing to distance themselves from the corrupt media empire they had helped to create; revolutions in Egypt and elsewhere that provided hope which was quickly extinguished once it was clear youth, women, and moderate voices would have nothing to do with the new order; America brought to the economic brink by petty partisan bickering and a rabid right wing; London burning ostensibly over a police shooting but looters gone wild, torching their own neighbourhood and leaving hundreds of innocent people homeless. I have not even touched the economic roller coaster and the repulsive charade of bank bailouts followed by enormous-bonuses-as-usual on Wall Street.

Amid all this toxicity, negativity, and despair, Jack Layton had this to say from his deathbed:

“… consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

Amid the shameful circus of global politics, Jack Layton was a rare genuine spirit, the epitome of public service, and someone straightforward and most of all, real.

I am going to repeat Jack’s words many times to myself, and resolve to borrow from his stubborn, effervescent, indomitable spirit in this dark hour.

Rest in peace, Jack.

Posted in canada, news | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Death in children’s movies: the loss of innocence as a subversive agenda in Hollywood

Posted by E on August 20, 2007

pets dog and cat

Although I don’t have children of my own, I used to be a children’s English teacher while working in Asia. I learned to enjoy watching movies with my class and discuss them as part of our conversation exercises. So while I don’t teach anymore these days, whenever I want to relax, I surf the channels for a family movie. I enjoy the simple entertainment and the lack of violence, dead bodies and forensic obsession that has infested regular television channels on a nightly basis.

So tonight, as I was going through the sparse choices for a movie on television tonight, I spotted a movie about two kids hiding a dog in their apartment. But these days, as a precaution before I watch any films involving animals, I did a cursory look-up of the title on the net; there is hardly anything I hate more than to watch something that has me emotionally-invested, only to find out the dog is run over by a car at the end.

Sure enough, a movie reviewer described being in the theatre seeing this particular movie, when a sad turn near the end had all the children in the audience sobbing. I’d heard enough, and I decided to watch something else.

But not before I wondered why Hollywood has decided to kill off all the animals in its movies. In mainstream films aimed at more mature audiences, dogs/rabbits/cats are murdered by crazy neighbours or obsessive stalkers a la Fatal Attraction. And in children’s films, even those churned out by Disney, the pets die as a lesson to children about how sad things happen in life.

I once again reflected on the sad state of “family” films these days. A happy ending has now become an oxymoron for any film involving pets. In the last year, there were only a couple of films involving animals where the poor beast was not killed: albeit they involved horses that were at some point injured or close to death (i.e. Dreamer, Seabiscuit).

Horses who have died in movies and children’s books: Phar Lap, Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka, My Pal Trigger, The Red Pony, etc.

These days, nearly every film involving a dog, fish, deer or lion results in the inevitable demise of a main character.

Isn’t childhood these days so fleeting that studios must still carry an agenda of “teaching important moral lessons” wrapped under the guise of death and sadness?

Ever since Bambi‘s mother was killed by a hunter, innocence has been a target on the chopping block of studio executives. In one film whose title escapes me, a young boy has to go shoot his ailing pet dog as a way to show that he is finally “becoming a man.” Update: the movie is Old Yeller, a childhood trauma favourite.

I am so sick and tired of the suggestion that kids will somehow learn certain important lessons from the heartache of losing a pet, whether their own or the brief attachment they make when they watch a beloved creature in a movie. There is enough trauma and sadness in this world without adults making it a point to provoke grief in the fragile psyches of young children.

If it isn’t Simba’s father, the great Mufasa in The Lion King, then it has to be Nemo’s mother and 498 brothers and sisters, eaten in the first 10 minutes. Littlefoot’s mother is killed in The Land Before Time; the Lion in Narnia sacrifices his life; 3 of the huskies in Snow Dogs are killed; in All Dogs Go to Heaven, Charlie is run over by a car; and so on, and so forth.

Other such favourite book-movie remakes include The Yearling, where Bambi and Bambi’s mother get killed off. Adding to this is the old Hollywood twist of having the young protagonist actually pick up a rifle and shoot their beloved and domesticated pet deer in the head.

In Where the Red Fern Grows, not one but two dogs bite the dust – a pair of loyal, beloved hounds who save their master’s life end up being killed off as some sort of symbolic demonstration of love and sacrifice. WTF??

Then there is Never Cry Wolf, Julie of the Wolves, and White Fang, in which all the wolf-dogs kick the bucket by the end. (Remember Snow Dogs which I mentioned earlier – which outdoes all its predecesors by killing 3 dogs at the end). So here is a general rule of thumb for you: don’t watch movies (or read books) involving huskies and the arctic. Not a good idea.

They all die at the end.

More random animal murders take place in film renditions of crappy books such as J.T. and Sounder, where the stories are just as miserable and full of torment and suffering as the ending of the poor dog himself.

Don’t even get me started with the whole let’s-kill-the-villains theme in kids’ movies: in Little Mermaid, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the villain is always killed at the end. I think we can beat the villain or set up a situation without always killing someone.

Whatever happened to portraying happiness? Or is that too boring for film studios? I’ll take Benji any day over Lassie, where a brave little dog is shown beaten to death, and Lassie is whipped by a bad owner.

To all readers, I ask you to help me out here. Please add your comments and name any other films you know of where the animals are killed by the end: I want to compile a list of movies I would never show a child.

If you enjoyed the read or found it useful, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂

Posted in animals, children, commentary, culture, death, family, innocence, movie, movie review, parents, rant, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »