Feelings, Emotions, and Temperaments

I remind our readers that we have written several blogs on “feelings,” noting that feelings erupt in four consecutive stages: first physical, secondly emotional, thirdly cognitive, and finally in some kind of action (which could be something said or done). Significant in the understanding of feelings is that feelings are undefined. Thus “feelings” belongs with the undefined elements of basic physics, the undefined concept of life in biology, and the undefined concept of love in human interaction with the world. These central ingredients of the existence are so important that they need to be undefined. While time, life, and love and other such basic ingredients of the universe cannot be defined, they can be observed, they can be experienced, and they can be expressed. You have a sense of such things as time and life. Most important for our discussion, you have a sense of feelings. I will remind us that emotions are a subset of feelings, feelings being the first reflections of my core self. Now here I go again using an undefined phrase, core self, without so much as a by-your-leave. I will need to rely on previous blogs, and more substantial writings of other authors to make a case for “core self.”

So here is the paradigm: I have a core self, which we must admit is a spiritual phenomenon (oops, another undefined word: spiritual. Just have to observe it, experience it, and speak it…but that is another blog). So this spiritual entity of my so-called core self generates feelings. The stimuli for feelings can be an internal experience or an external experience, but when feelings erupt, they are an emanation of one’s core self. Then these feelings are expressed in physical, emotional, cognitive, and active (or spoken) forms. We have previously noted that people are inclined to the experience of one of these four elements of feelings and likewise inclined to the expression of one of these elements. So, for instance, I am a person who experiences feelings first emotionally and then I am inclined to express feelings in action or words. Deb is inclined to first experience feelings physically and then express them cognitively. Consider how these differences have made for a challenging opportunity to understand each other over our 42 years together. You might consider how you experience and express your feelings. But for now, I want to focus on the experience and expression of emotion, that second of the four elements of feelings. There are four basic emotions.

The Four Basic Emotions

In previous blogs we have noted that there are four basic emotions: fear, joy, anger, and sadness. These four emotions are constellated in two different forms: defense-based emotions and “love-based” emotions. Thus:

  • The love-based emotions are:
    • Joy when I have something that I love
    • Sadness when I lose something that I love
  • The defense-based emotions are:
    • Fear when I imagine that I might lose something
    • Anger when I have lost something

An important note is that joy always precedes sadness and fear always precedes anger. I have to experience the joy of having something before I have the experience of sadness upon losing it. When I feel the need to defend myself, I always feel fear first because of the impending threat, and then I feel anger secondly as a means of defense against my attacker.

It is also important note about the “something” that I love, have, and lose is that it could be anything. For instance, I may love a person, a group of people, a political persuasion, a physical object, a geographical place, an idea, a hope, a dream, or many other things, some physical, some imaginary, some personal, some interpersonal. The key factor in this is that all the four basic emotions have something to do with love in some way even though we refer to joy and sadness as love-based emotions. So when I get afraid of losing something, I fear losing something I love, and when I get angry at having lost something, I have lost something that I love. Our proposal, then, is that all emotions are in some way about loving something. Let’s move on to how these emotions are related to temperament. There are four temperaments.

The Four Temperaments

I suggest readers review our previous blogs on the four temperaments. I will not belabor the differences among these temperaments but to suggest some things common to each of them. Furthermore, there are many other systems of understanding personality, among them personality type (Jung, and Myers-Briggs), Enneagram (many authors), the DISC assessment (primarily in business). The StrengthsFinder (also in business primarily), and several other “temperament” systems. All of these systems are of value, but for our purposes here, we understand the four basic temperaments to be:

  • Player, someone who seeks experience, and often excitement
  • Lover, someone who seeks connections, often seeking harmony
  • Caretaker, someone who takes care of property
  • Analyst, someone who seeks truth, usually through finding and solving problems

We will not belabor further explanation of these temperaments except to say: (1) no one fits entirely in one temperament, (2) everybody has some elements of all four temperaments, and (3) people need to develop the characteristics of the other temperaments to be mature, successful, and happy in life. Most don’t. Now on to the emotion part of this blog.

Emotion and Temperament

Everybody experiences all four emotions regularly, certainly every day, and very often more frequently than daily. And everybody experiences joy first and sadness second as they have something before they lose that something. Additionally, everybody experiences fear first and anger second. That having been said, we propose that people of different temperaments tend to express these emotions differently. Each temperament has a tendency to express one of the love-based emotions and experience one of the defense-based emotions. Thus:

  • Players express the love-based emotion of joy most readily and experience the defense-based emotion of fear when feeling in some kind of danger
  • Lovers express the love-based feeling of sadness most readily and experience the defense-based emotion of fear when feeling some kind of danger
  • Caretakers express the love-based emotion of joy most readily and experience the defense-based emotion of anger when feeling some kind of danger
  • Analysts express the love-based emotion of sadness most readily, and experience the defense-based emotion of anger when feeling some kind of danger

It is important to note that we look at sadness as a love-based emotion, not depression, not despair, and not something bad. Thus, lovers and analysts are not more often sad, and certainly not more depressed than players and caretakers. They are simply freer to express sadness when they feel it. Lovers express sadness frequently because they are acutely aware of the loss of connection with people that happens frequently every day. Analysts express sadness frequently because they are always seeing how the world is not functioning as well as it could be. Players and caretakers appear to be happier than lovers and analysts, but they are, in fact, no happier: they just focus on being happy and seek to ingratiate the feeling of joy. They have just as much sadness as lovers and analysts; they just don’t show it.

People tend to express different defense-based emotions according to their temperament. Thus, we see more expressed anger with analysts and caretakers than we see with players and lovers. Caretakers and analyst are not angrier by nature; they just tend to express anger more readily. On the other hand, players and lovers express fear more readily. So while fear is actually the first defense-based emotion when we feel some threat, players and lovers tend to express this emotion, while caretakers and analysts tend to quickly pass over the fear part of defense and move right into the anger part of defense.

A way of understanding this phenomenon of experience and expression of emotions according to temperament is to consider that all people tend to be consciously aware of one emotion while another emotion lies in one’s unconscious. Thus, a person who expresses joy rather more readily than sadness is consciously aware of the emotion of joy but not always conscious of the emotion of sadness that always accompanies the joy of having something. In this paradigm of temperament vis-à-vis emotion, caretakers and players are more aware of the joy of having something but not conscious of the possibility of losing what they have. In contrast, lovers and analysts are much more aware of the possibility of losing what they love, and hence less aware of the actual joy of having something that they love. We could suggest that lovers and analysts are more aware of the potential of losing something that they love while caretakers and players are more aware of the joy of having something that they love. This paradigm might suggest that caretakers and players are happier than their counterparts, but such is not the case. They are just better at enjoying the moment of loving something. Analysts and analysts are not sadder than their counterparts; rather, they are more aware that having something always means losing it eventually. Both the joy of having and the sadness of losing are love-based and valuable in life. But one’s awareness and expression of emotion can lead to difficulties in life:

Challenges Related to Emotion and Temperament

Consider how you express your love positively, whether with joy or sorrow. Then consider which of the two defense-based emotions you actually experience most frequently. You might then be a:

  • A player who loves life, enjoys people, places, and things very easily, but have a tendency towards an underlying fear, which could then turn to anxiety
  • A lover who loves people and the connections with people, but also have a tendency to an underlying fear, which could then turn to anxiety
  • A caretaker who loves things and the care of things, but when feeling some kind of danger to these things, can fall into anger
  • An analyst who loves ideas, truth, and problem-solving, but can fall into anger when things don’t go right.

This analysis of temperament vis-à-vis emotions might seem convoluted, so allow me to make the matter of emotions and temperament even murkier. When someone is expressing his or her basic love-based emotions, there is always the other side of the spectrum operating at an unconscious level. Likewise, when someone is experiencing a defense-based emotion, there is always the other defense-based emotion lurking in the background. So, what we have then is:

  • The player easily expresses fear on the surface when feeling a need to defend, but unconsciously, s/he feels anger. Because her/his anger is not mature, players can become enraged and out of control occasionally.
  • The lover also expresses fear on the surface when in defensive posture, but unconsciously feels anger. Thus, s/he isn’t particularly good at managing anger, which can come out with explosions.
  • The caretaker who displays anger on the surface when defending, but unconsciously feels fear. Thus, a caretaker can become quite overcome with fear, which then turns to anxiety.
  • The analyst who is good at expressing anger unconsciously feels fear when in a defensive position. Thus, this person may be overcome with fear that there is no way to fix what is wrong with the world. In other words, the analyst can’t make the world as good as he or she would like it to be.

The potential expression of unconscious emotions is most problematic for all people regardless of temperament. It is not so much the emotion that we are good at that causes us difficulty in life but the emotion that we are not aware of and hence not good at expressing. We can improve our expression of emotion by being aware of both of the defense-based emotions so that anger and fear do not operate unconsciously, immaturely, and out of control

Possibilities Related to Temperament and Emotion

While it is important to become increasing aware of our defense-based emotions, particularly the one that tends to be unconscious, it is even more important to become increasingly aware of our love-based emotions so we can enhance our lives. People can be at their very best if they become increasingly aware of their emotions, particularly the emotions that are largely unconscious. We suggest:

  • Players mature emotionally as they become conscious of the potential sadness that is implicit in every moment of joy associated with having something rather than singularly insisting that every moment of life must be exciting
  • Lovers mature emotionally as they become conscious of the potential of simply enjoying the connections that they have rather than worrying about the inevitability of losing a connection.
  • Caretakers mature emotionally as they become conscious of the potential sadness associated with loss or damage of property rather than singularly focusing on protecting everything from damage or loss
  • Analysts mature emotionally as they become conscious of the immense joy associated with understanding things and allowing themselves to simply enjoy it rather than focusing on the potential problem with something

Summary

  • We all feel deeply, feelings that erupt from our central core and are experienced first physically followed by feeling emotionally, cognitively, and in action
  • We all experience all four emotions associated with the second experience of feeling
  • We tend to be more aware of and expressive of one of the two defense-based emotions and one of the two love-based emotions
  • The more aware we become of the emotions that are unconscious, the less these emotions will dominate us because of their immaturity.
  • If we focus first on our strengths of temperament and associated emotion, we will be able to augment these strengths, have a better appreciation for all four emotions, and thus not be controlled by emotions but find ways to effectively express these emotions

Temperament IX: Opportunities and Challenges for Caretakers

This is the last of nine blogs on “temperament,” the general approach that people take in life. We have previously discussed four “temperaments” as I have conceived of them for several decades beginning when I began to use the term “players” for people who seemed naturally inclined to excitement, adventure, play, and most of all, experience. You might find it valuable to review the blogs on the four temperaments that I discuss including players (seeking experience most of all), lovers (seeking connection), analysts (seeking meaning), and caretakers (seeking the care of property). I have discussed the basic natures of each of these four temperaments noting how they see the world, how they evaluate the world, how they communicate to the world, and how they engage the world. Following these initial explorations of the basic natures, I then proceeded with the opportunities and challenges that each temperament has. I now come to the last of these discussions of opportunities and challenges, that of people I call “caretakers.”

Review of caretakers

As I conceive of these four temperaments (caretakers, lovers, players, and analysts), I see people who roughly (or thoroughly) fall into one of these categories love something. Lovers love (human) connection, players love experience, analysts love meaning, and caretakers love property. You may recall that I see myself primarily as a caretaker. I was bemused a few months ago when Deb and I were giving a lecture about our recently published book, I asked if anyone in the audience (of about 100) “loved property more than people.” There were no raised hands. I was bemused by this, but certainly understood the reticence of people admitting that they just might love property more than people. Then I noted that I was such a person, and then saw people look at me aghast as if I had just spoken some kind of psychological heresy. We didn’t have time to unpack my statement about “loving property,” but it is indeed true that people with my orientation towards the caretaker temperament have a deep value of property, primarily human-made property.

This orientation towards property leads us into the current discussion of “opportunities and challenges” that we caretakers have in the world. So, consider in your own mind first, whether you might be such a person. You might find it a bit embarrassing to see, much less admit, that you really love property. If you are distinctly not a caretaker by nature, you might consider that you are related in some way to such a person, perhaps a parent or a spouse. If that is the case, you might now note how you feel towards that person. You might discover that you think something is wrong with him/her. I have found that people tend to revere my caretaking orientation and abilities, on the one hand, and find my orientation to property boring at the least, and perhaps appalling at the most.

So, let’s first look at the opportunities of caretakers.

A note of history

The opportunities for caretakers abound, at least in this country (U.S.), a country that was essentially founded on property and work that protected and improved upon the property. If we look at American history, both the good and the bad, we can see that both the successes and failures of America have largely been related to property. This view then gives us a picture of the opportunities and challenges that caretakers have in America, and to a lesser degree, other countries. Consider what you see and hear when you go through a day. I purport that you see things. I might even suggest that when you see people, you see people having things, looking at things, caring for things, or doing things. I believe this things orientation that is so American is not so predominant in other countries except, perhaps where American property orientation has been imported. Consider, for instance, how the Native Americans originally viewed property, particularly land. They did not “own” land. They may have occupied it for a season or two, but the land belonged to the Spirit, or perhaps to the People at large. (Most Native Americans had names for their tribes what could be translated into “The People” rather than to the names that Northern Europeans came to call them.) But from the very beginning of the Northern European invasion of what came to be called the United States had a distinct orientation towards the acquisition, protection of, and enhancement of property. There were elements of the philosophical types who we might call analysts, certainly the player types who might have been the Lewis and Cark’s and the Daniel Boone’s of America exploring the West, and people of a lover temperament among them, but the predominant feature of the country from its very beginning and continuing into the present has had to do with property. Property first. Everything else second: that would include loving people, loving ideas, and loving experience. This leads us to the next discussion:

The opportunities for caretakers

They abound. The opportunities abound in America. Note the thousands of “startups” that are much the rage. Note the independent workers much the rage. Note the “work from home” way of work is that is more and more common. Note the opportunities for making money (which is essentially property) that is all the rage. Then note that there seems to be no end of this rage that is so intrinsic to property acquisition and management, but we will delay this discussion until we face the challenges that caretakers have. My point here is that America (by which I mean predominantly the U.S.) gives us caretakers a wide berth in going about life because America is so property-based. I have found that I “fit in” with just about any group and any ensuing conversation because talk almost always goes to what one has or what one has done. Having and Doing are the central ingredients of the caretaker temperament. Let’s look at some of what is the fabric of American society:

  • Academic: What is the basic orientation towards most of elementary school through high school? Achievement, grades, and finishing a degree. I aver that most of such school is very production oriented, or doing-based. This made school quite easy for me, especially in elementary and high school, most of college and most of graduate school. I knew, for instance, that I needed to be “Dr. Johnson” so I raced through my doctorate in two years. Didn’t learn much, but I finished. Compare that achievement, if we even call it such, with Deb, the analyst, who took 10 years to do the same even though she is the smarter of the two of us. Deb was interested in learning. I was interested in doing. Pity the poor analyst kids (I see many in my office) who are looking for meaning, much less the players looking for experience.
  • Vocational: Work is about “doing”, right? Not necessarily. What work does a math researcher do when s/he is trying to find the answer to a complex math problem? S/he is not “doing” anything, really. I was bemused many years ago when I discovered that the math “research lab” on the top floor of the math building was just a lounge with blackboards (remember those?) on every wall. Aside from these math types and many other researchers, philosophers, and the like, most of us think of work being equal to production, care, or enhancement of property. Pity the poor guy who cares about people, ideas, and experience if he is in a doing job. I recall a gentleman a saw recently who was a player by nature but struggling to get his accounting degree because he “could make a lot of money as an accountant.” I know of a current patient who makes nearly six figures doing a job he “hates” but can’t seem to give up his current income to change careers to do something that he dreams of doing and might be might be quite good at. Vocation is much easier for caretakers like me because we can do most anything.
  • Family. When I ask people what is important to them, I always have in mind the four elements of the four temperaments: property (caretakers), connections (lovers), experience (players), and meaning (analysts). But when I ask people what is important to them, I almost always hear “family” regardless of what their temperament really is. The idea of “family” is so central in the current psychology of the country that it dominates what people think is really important. When people think of family, they almost immediately think of taking care of their families with property and money. They don’t think of experience, meaning, and connection so much as they think of stuff. When I think about “family,” I think of taking care of the property that I have, they have, or we have. I have been thinking much lately about how I can protect and preserve my property so that my surviving child and grandchildren might use this property when I die.
  • Fun. What is fun for people? When we think of “fun,” most of us think of doing Deb and I are finishing up a bit of vacation as we speak and we think we might do something today, like play miniature golf or go to a movie. Lovers might just think of snuggling on the couch or having an intimate conversation. Players might think of rock climbing or playing hockey. Analysts might just think.

So, in general, the opportunities for caretakers are many. Especially early in life. What about the challenges?

Challenges for caretakers

The most important thing to say about the challenges for caretakers is that the first part of life, and perhaps the first two-thirds of life, is pretty easy for the likes of caretakers because so much of America is designed for their doing things and caring for property. It is in the later stages of life that caretakers tend to get bogged down. They get bogged down with property and doing. Furthermore, people of other temperaments get bogged down with property, money, and the security that such things brings to people, like the guys I just mentioned making a lot of money or wanting to make a lot of money doing something that they don’t really like. Let me examine the tendencies that caretakers have when things get bogged down:

  • Too much property. Because caretakers take care of property and spend an inordinate amount of time acquiring property, they usually have much more than they need. Then they have to paint, insure, protect, and otherwise care for all this property. It can be a burden. I am working diligently to use, sell, or give away much of the property I have acquired over my years of life.
  • Aging. Now that I am 75 and fast approaching 76 I note that I simply can’t do what I used to do. This, of course, is true of all people, but for us caretakers it is a burden more than for most because we can’t do what we have always done: everything. I am now seeing a very caretaker-by-nature man of 50 something who had a tragic accident that left him unable to use his legs at all and much limitation with his hands. He is beside himself as to how to find a way to do something that is meaningful when meaning has always been working 12 hours a day and then some. You don’t have to be physically impaired to note that you can’t do what you used to do with aplomb.
  • Angry. This young (he is 50 something as I noted) man is quite angry. He is angry at life, at himself, his wife, and perhaps God for the predicament he is in because he can’t do what he has always done. But he is not the only angry caretaker I have known, sadly including me. It took me years to overcome the tendency to get angry when I couldn’t do something or someone else didn’t do something. Life was all about doing, and since I thought everyone should be like me, just do shit, I got angry when they didn’t do. I had a conversation with a like-minded concrete guy who is working on a project at our house. We both agreed that “the younger generation doesn’t know much about work,” which just might mean work=doing things.
  • Lost relationships. I know of many caretakers who were so good at doing things, that they couldn’t maintain a successful relationship, which ideally would include all the ingredients previously mentioned: connection, meaning, and experience. A woman who just works all the time, whether at home or at work may not notice that her spouse and children miss some of the other ingredients like connection, meaning, and experience. I hear from people that their spouses “just don’t have any time for me.”

Aside from these specific challenges caretakers face, the greater challenge is for them to develop beyond their basic nature. This doesn’t mean that they give up their love of property. It means that they give up their singular love of property and develop love of connection, meaning, and experience. Likely, a caretaker will have what we call a “secondary temperament,” which might be player, lover, or analyst, so developing other loves apart from property might start with one’s secondary temperament. It is much harder, however to develop the really undeveloped natures that are so rich in people of other temperaments. It is hard for a caretaker to take Buddha’s alleged statement, “Don’t just do something. Sit there.” As it a challenge for a person of any temperament to develop secondary and tertiary elements of his/her psychological nature, it is essential. The other three temperaments often suffer for the lack of doing and producing: analysts can end up having everything possible but nothing real; lovers can have love for everyone but not ever do anything, and players having all kinds of experiences but not accomplish anything of lasting value. Caretakers need to learn to love more than property.

Sharing Grief

You might know that my daughter, Krissie, died just a few weeks ago. Understandably, this event has had a rather profound effect on me, as well as others who knew Krissie, both family and friends. The effect on me, and of course on others, has been one of grief. These past six weeks has been extraordinary as I have been grieving…and sharing grief with others.

The blog I published just yesterday was on the I-You-Me theory I have discovered over the recent years, namely how people of different natures have different ways of establishing and maintaining relationships. Simply put, I find that there are three predominant ways that people “relate” one another, namely with what I have called “I-first” people, “You-first” people, and “We-first” people. (There are also some subsets of these basic three kinds of relating discussed in the previous blog.) I-first people begin a relationship on what they feel, think, and do; and then they tend to make statements about themselves. You-first people begin a relationship with what the other person thinks, feels, or does; and then they tend to ask questions of the other person. We-first people tend to wait until something happens in the relationship, whether one of words or actions as they look the find what they call a “connection” with the other person. I have admitted that I am an I-first person.

Sadness and Grieving

You may be aware that Deb and I wrote a book entitled The Positive Power of Sadness not long ago, which is a rendering of what we have come to believe is the most important, and the most love-based emotion in the human experience, namely sadness. We have come to believe that this love-based emotion comes about singularly when there has been a loss, specifically a loss of something that the person has loved. As we note in our book this loss can be of person, property, or idea. While most people think that the loss of a person is the most profound loss, people can feel just as much sadness when they lose property or an idea does not work as they hoped that it would. Deb and I continue to assist every one of our patients with facing the losses that they have experienced in life, and in so doing avoid the tendency to fall into the emotions of fear and anger or the condition of depression. So we know quite a bit about sadness, and frankly speaking, are pretty good at feeling sadness instead of anger and fear. Anger, by the way is the emotion that occurs when I have lost something in the past, and fear is the emotion that occurs when I consider that I might lose something in the future.

Our ongoing journey of grief

This has been a remarkable journey indeed, and it has been particularly remarkable one for me because I am the I-first person noted above and in my previous blog. Recall that I-first people tend to establish and maintain relationships with statements, usually statements about what they think, feel, or do. So, during these past six weeks I have done just that and have found something quite remarkable, and seemingly quite memorable. The remarkable thing about these weeks of grieving is how I have felt the value of the relationships I have established, mostly built upon people’s kindness, generosity, and selflessness as they have shared my grief, and very often Deb’s and my shared grief. I think I have found what We-first people seek all the time, namely the connection that two (or more) people can have when one person shares something with another person. In the case of this past few weeks, the sharing has been of our grief, but we have also had times of sharing joys with many people. This “connection” that We-people seem to know so much about has found its way into my soul. I am a changed person as a result. Let me tell you of some of the encounters over these past weeks, almost all of them in regards to someone hearing, feeling, or listening to me (us) regarding our loss:

  • The person at the counter at Starbucks, which is Deb’s most preferred brief hangout when she seeks her caffeine addiction. Deb happened to mention that she was “coping” when the barista simply asked, “How are you?” This led to this woman coming around the counter, hugging Deb and crying with but what has become the most treasured words, “Oh, I am so sorry.” Just sorry. Nothing more.
  • Many more of these encounters. Like the time, now about 3 weeks ago in my Madison office, after my first day back at work. It was the end of the day and I just locked my door and was walking towards the stairs when a pleasant older woman sitting in the waiting room brimmed a most pleasant smile and wished me a good night. I walked hallway down the stairs and then found I was compelled to return to the third floor. I did so, and said to the woman that I particularly appreciated her smile and greeting because the recent days had been hard as my daughter had died. She immediately got out of her chair, and asked if she could hug me. “Certainly,” I said.
  • The first day back at church, actually on the Sunday after Krissie had died when I was supposed to preach. The person who filled in for me that day mentioned that he was a bit surprised to see me there and mentioned my loss. Immediately, several people (all men, I believe), gathered around me as I found myself in tears.
  • Deb and I traveled “west” not knowing where we might go beyond “west” but we knew that we wanted to get to the source of the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota. We did what all people do in this sacred place: walked across the Mississippi River. We went back to the car after an hour or so at these waters, but were somehow compelled to return once more to this spot where the great river begins. Deb asked a young lady if she would be so kind to take our picture, and then noted that Krissie had died and we were scattering some of Krissie’s ashes at the source of the Mississippi. She did what so many people of her nature do at such times: her hand went immediately to her chest, she begin crying, and then hugged us. After the pictures she took of us scattering, crying, and the like, she said it had “been a great honor” to be of service.
  • Another such chance encounter happened closer to our cabin “up north” as we say in Wisconsin. We were on a trek to a falls that Krissie and her kids had taken with us a couple of times. Deb again happened to encounter a woman who asked how we were only to hear of our loss. Without missing a second, she turned to her friend and said, “Ashley, come over here, we’re going to pray.” Then she proceeded to hug us, together with her friend Ashley, and pray for us. Don’t know if I will ever see her again, but she is now is “connected” forever.
  • Many more such encounters with “strangers no more” while their names are not in my vocabulary.
  • Many moments of sharing with Krissie’s friends, particularly at the celebration of life in Bloomington where she lives.
  • I think I have received no less than 100 unsolicited hugs over these past weeks, maybe another 100 emails and more cards and letters. Each of them has been meaningful and helpful.
  • Of course, Deb and I have been “connected” all the more with each of us taking turns crying and holding one another.
  • Among other things remarkable is the fact that I have hugged my sun-in-law, Lamont, perhaps 50 times over these weeks, about 49 times more than I have ever hugged him.

Sharing Grief

It has been enlightening to have had these many experiences of connection, most with strangers, some with friends, and of course some with family. I am a changed person. Yet grieving, yet recovering. I am indebted to these many people, none of them true strangers, for their kindness. The experience has taught me, as I seem to continually be taught by many experiences in life, that there is value in shared grief. I say so to people, like a friend this very morning as we were having a cup of coffee together and heard from him how he “couldn’t imagine how it would be to lose a child” as his eyes welled up. I told him, as I told everyone who shared my grief, that it was helpful to be loved by his sharing this grief with me. I’m not sure that many people truly understand how grief is meant to be shared and how profitable it is to the grieved as well as consoler. It seems that people who are able and willing to this simple task of love have a good sense of who they are and hence can care, if for a moment, more about me than they do about themselves. I look to be more gracious in such things.

Just one brief note regarding the sharing of grief: some people are unable to actually share grief with others. This is because they have not finished their own grief. So when someone with unfinished grief encounters someone grieving, there is a mixture of feelings including a desire to avoid grief altogether and a kind of jealousy that the other person is grieving if place of the person being asked to share the grief. There is no shame in this inability to share grief, but it is impossible for such a person to genuinely love someone else in the other person’s grief when their grief is yet so unresolved.

I Walk A Little Slower Now

I walk a little slower now

My gate not up to speed

I step and step, but then I bow

My back like bread to knead

 

I stumble on a step or two

But find I cannot bear

This burden but for just a few

Seconds as I stare

 

I stare, I stare, I stare once more

As if I could but see

My daughter on another shore

Somewhere ahead of me.

 

I stare, I look, I carefully inspect

That shore I think I see

I look, I think, I feel and yet respect

For what must certainly be

 

I stare, I look, I think, I feel

My hope for this last claim.

But it’s enough for me to steal

A glance from God’s domain

Ron Johnson

8/31/19