AWC Blog

(Good) Grief

By Matthew Kirsch of Kirsch Method Acupuncture & Bodywork

I withdrew from Physical Therapy School and moved to Austin to pursue Acupuncture when I was 19. Graduated at 22 and started my own practice at 23. On Sunday, I turned 37. 

One interaction from my early years made an impression. A person called with many questions about acupuncture, to which I articulated responses I could tell connected and answered her questions, but then she asked, “Matthew, may I ask your age,” to which I responded “I’m 23,” and to which she replied, “I appreciate all your time, I think I just may feel more comfortable with someone older who has experiences that may relate closer to my age.”

Some part of my ego got a little grrrrrrr at this, and this interaction has always stayed with me. At age 37 I understand this conversation more than ever; Good grief, life can sometimes be a lot.

I began to think about that expression. Where is the “good” in all this grief. I mean really, who was the wise guy that first coined the term and said, ‘hey, this grief is good, wink wink,” and how did it become regular in our expression instead of someone punching him? Turns out this wise guy may be actually wise, because grieving is how we get through to the other side of a loss, and that is why the “good” preceeds the “grief.”

I’m prompted to have this conversation because there has been loss in my life, and I see loss in many of the lives that come here for care, but also you may have followed this on the news, it was the recent story of Tahlequah that made me want to write about grief. 

Tahlequah is a 20 year old Orca who gave birth on July 25th to the first calf born to this rare species of Orca in almost 3 years; and the calf died about 30 minutes later. In her grief, Tahlequah would not let go of the calf. Instead she kept the calf on her nose and kept pushing him to the surface while migrating with her pod through the PacificOcean off British Columbia, and one can imagine with the hope he would breathe and spring back to life. Over the next 1000 miles of Pacific Ocean, Tahlequah would push her calf to the surface. However, to keep up with her pod, other members of her pod would take turns carrying the calf, so she could rest, and together as a pod they mourned. Seventeen days later, Tahlequah finally let her calf go. 

What really touched me about this story is her pod. No one reprimanded Tahlequah saying, ‘your calf is dead and you should have let him go 950 miles ago.” No one tried to make her feel other than she was feeling. They joined her in her grief and her mourning, and they supported her by bearing some of the weight until she was ready to let go. What an amazing way to be supported.

Poet Elizabeth Kubler – Ross asks, “I want to know if you can you sit with my pain and your own pain and not try to change it.” This willing to join in seems to be the medicine that is needed. It is represented in story after story. Here are two more that have stayed with me.

Do You watch a show called The Bold Type? If follows three women that work for a fashion magazine with a focus on women’s strength. In their season finale entitled, “Carry the Weight,” a character Mia played by Ana Kayne holds the Lady Justice’s two scales in a a park in NYC in protest of the aquitted man who raped her, and will not put the scales down. However other women who have been sexually assaulted come forth to relieve her by holding the scales for her and joining her. It allows her to rest, and it’s the only rest she gets.

The 1998 film What Dreams May Come starring Robin Williams was so influential in the first development of this thought for me. Robin’s character leaves his happy heaven after hearing his wife is in a dark purgatory after committing suicide having lost her husband and child. Robin’s character does everything possible to try to change and shake her out of her state of grief, and with time closing for them both to be able to leave this purgatory or stay forever, he makes the decision, if I can not awaken you, I will simply join you in your grief, kneels in front of her and lets out a deep exhale, and she awakens.

These stories can teach us so much. If we are grieving process, do we have community that will grieve with us? If we have a loved one going through such a process, can we be that community to grieve with them. Can we let someone carry the weight with us so we can rest? Can we help carry someone’s weight so they can rest? It’s going to be a journey. Tahlequah says it’s going to take about 1000 miles of ocean before you are ready to let go of this weight.

If you look around and feel like you have no one, please know this. Our bodies have some design inside to help us through such times. Our hearts are wrapped in the most lushious soothing sac called the pericardium that functions like a weighted blanket, and your heart sits on the best memory foam comforters ever made called your lungs, and they will soak up all the hurt for you, and when you are ready to release those memories and let them go they will wring themselves out as tears.

If you are going through some deep grief, I know it hurts. I am sorry you are hurting. The hurt hurts. I do believe help is always available. Be open to this, and if you feel that this practice can swim some miles with you, you are welcome to come as you are, your whole self, and receive some care. 

While a heavier message, this is what my 37 year old heart wanted to share today. I wish you all much health AND HAPPINESS! See you in session.

Your Acupuncturist,

I will leave you with two additional quotes from Elizabeth Kubler – Ross . . .To all the beautiful people reading this, wishing you much peace in your heart.

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. Those people have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”