“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: