Uncensored

“It’s the resistance to feeling that causes a great deal of our suffering.” So says journalist, birth doula, and hospital chaplain Amy Wright Glenn in her most recent book: Holding Space: On Loving, Dying, and Letting Go.  Instead, she encourages us to release them, because that is the only way to weaken their grip on us.

We resist our feelings all too often, as if expressing them would make them even worse or more prolonged. And we even encourage others to resist them. I still remember the day when I was standing near my mother’s grave during the funeral for my father I started to cry. After the person standing near me acknowledged my sadness she switched the topic to some trivial matter as if to say, “I better turn off the spigot before any more tears gush out.” And that is exactly what happened; I went into a dulled state. I would have preferred to let as many tears as I wanted go into free fall. I wanted to feel spent.

People do censor their feelings, and part of my job as a chaplain is to remove that destructive inner editor. In her book Amy recounts the story of a patient of hers who was only in her fifties and did not have much time left. She wanted to wail and rage at length about the unfairness of it all. As Amy listened without trying to impede the flow of her anger, her family awkwardly gave the patient and her bed a wide girth. It must have been very draining and even scary for Amy to persevere through the yelling and intensity. Amy not only permitted but encouraged her to go on and on until at last there was a shift: the patient grew quieter and simply wept. The family made the trek back to her bedside. Only at that point did the woman feel free to get at what would make her last days meaningful which was to pass on a legacy to her grandchildren. From there that cleared a path for discussions of how to do so and, although Amy did not specifically mention it, also created a path to the patient and family’s last precious intimate moments with each other instead of alienation and dread.

For more information on her book and about Amy herself, see the following:

Holding Space

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5 thoughts on “Uncensored

  1. Liz adams says:

    This is so wise. After my husband died a visiting friend,seeing me crying, begged me not to cry. But I have to! I sobbed. Later i thought that was quite right.

    Better not to give people a wide berth then, if we can stand it,that is.

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    • Incredible that we have to fight to cry. Of course what’s happening is that the other person is made anxious and wants to tamp down their own anxiety in situations like that. Thus many well-meaning hospital visits don’t comfort patients, who feel pressured to keep up a chirpy cheery front. For all those potential visitors reading this, you will do a huge good deed and hasten spiritual and emotional healing if you can push through the anxiety and make yourself be there for your loved one or friend.

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  2. This really resonates with me even though I don’t interact with the sick and dying regularly. I have fought hard to learn to even let myself feel and express my own emotions… and it has taken time. I also take great pains to parent my 2-year old in a way that allows space and time for his emotions. It requires being centered in myself so that I can remain calm in the face of tantrums. It also requires that I face my own anxiety which is often triggered by his sadness or anger. It’s so important to me so that he grows up knowing he can feel powerful emotions, express them, survive them, and move on. But first you have to feel them! Holding space for someone else to do so is a sacred act.

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  3. Yes, I’m sure it’s healthier to let your feelings out, Karen.

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    • And for some of us, easier said than done. A wrinkle in this, though, is how they are let out. Pent up feelings can lead to a destructive lashing out rather than a more controlled release that will end up in more healing for all concerned.

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