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Grief Masks

October makes me think of Halloween, and Halloween makes me think of masks, and masks remind me that sometimes when we're grieving, we wear masks without even realizing it. We may never stop to think about how other people perceive our appearances, our images and our behaviors. Over time, we may gradually drift into a pattern of "being" that is so familiar to us we never realize that others might be seeing us in a totally different way.

Our pain may have caused us to have an outwardly distorted appearance, even when inwardly we may actually feel we are reconciling to our losses. Some people appear to be continually anger and bitter, when in fact it is only a reflection of their sadness. Even though their inward hostilities have begun to soften and resolve, on the outside they have kept their protective masks of fierceness. In reality, they are starved for love and companionship, but they are afraid to let their true feelings show. What if they were ridiculed, violated or abandoned and therefore hurt anew?

On the other hand, there are those who have adopted a perpetually "sunny" countenance that covers an internal sorrow. Their hearts and minds and faith may be splintered, but they are determined that the people around them will never guess their secret. They may believe that showing sorrow is a weakness that will drive away the people they think they need.

It would appear that masks are psychological props that seem to protect us from something we fear. For some people, self disclosure is as repulsive as public nudity! It seems safer for mask-wearers to endure the lack of support and attention they so sorely need rather than to honestly reveal their innermost feelings.

I wonder what would happen if we all let down our guards and allowed our families, friends, neighbors and co-workers to discover our real pain. Would our revelations really make us any more weak or vulnerable? Would we really be at any more emotional risk? Could we be hurt any more than we've already been?

Naturally, if we take the chance of disclosing our true selves, revealing where we are weak or frightened or hurt, there is always the possibility that we might become prey for the predators. The vultures seem always to be circling. But there is also the chance that we will provide an opportunity for the intelligent, strong and compassionate of our peers to offer their support. Where there is evil, there is also good. Where there is pain, there is also healing. Nature teaches us that in life, there is balance.

Precisely because we have suffered the ultimate wound-the death of one who was truly loved-perhaps eventually we can afford to take more risks. It's a tough issue: Dare we risk the pain of being hurt again if we disclose? Or have we become strong enough and brave enough to take a chance on the rediscovery of love and the richness of new attachments? Is it true that what does not kill us makes us stronger?

Perhaps it becomes a question of giving ourselves enough time to form scar tissue. We may need to proceed cautiously, taking baby-step risks at first, trusting our most private thoughts, feelings and needs to only one or two close and dependable friends. We may need to test the formation of delicate new bondings-even in old relationships!

Gradually, we may be able to uncover enough of our hidden courage to feel safe in abandoning our protective masks and revealing our true feelings-not only to the world at large, but more importantly, to ourselves.

Good Grief Resources (http://www.goodgriefresources.com) was conceived and founded by Andrea Gambill whose 17-year-old daughter died in 1976. Almost thirty years of experience in leading grief support gropus, writing, editing, and founding a national grief-support magazine has provided valuable insights into the unique needs of the bereaved and their caregivers and wide access to many excellent resources. The primary goal of Good Grief Resources is to connect the bereaved and their caregivers with as many bereavement support resources as possible in one, efficient and easy-to-use website directory.

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