Do you remember that 1986 Bangles hit song, Walk Like An Egyptian? It’s catchy in a crazy way, and, personally, I loathe it. So I’m sorry if I just got it stuck in your head.
Don’t worry. This blog is not about that song. It’s about what motivated songwriter Liam Sternberg to write that song. He came up with the idea while watching ferry passengers struggle to keep their balance as the boat rocked in high waves. To Sternberg, the way people swayed reminded him of ancient paintings from the pyramids.
It’s hard to sing, “Rocking boats make people walk like Egyptians.”
Not a very catchy lyric.
So I want to paraphrase his lyric and write about a salient point–
Trauma forces us to act differently.
Last year was the most painful, difficult year of my life. Within a month, I lost both my father and my oldest daughter. Whatever experiences I had before last year that I would have classified as “hard”– divorce, job loss, death of a pet, moving, etc.– seemed much less difficult in comparison.
Hymnist Horatio Spafford knew of such profound trauma when he wrote “…when sorrows like sea billows roll.” We will all experience trauma and loss in our lives. Once the shock wears off, here are some things that you should know about the grieving and healing process:
It’s Okay to Look “Foolish”
When members of the Jewish faith lose a loved one, they “sit shiva.” Shiva is a seven-day mourning period where the family gathers under one roof to mourn. During this time, mirrors are covered so that mourners don’t become distracted by their own appearances.
Grief is ugly. You may cry regularly and for no apparent, external reason. Your sobs may not sound human. Lack of sleep may make your face puffy, your throat dry, and your mind thick as if you were operating machinery under water. Don’t be afraid to look stupid, just like people on a boat when a rough wave hit them from the side. Your only concern–and the only concern those around you should have for you–is for you to remain safe.
Don’t Be Afraid to Hold On
Let go of the wrong thoughts so you can better hold on to better ones. Wrong thoughts are ones like “Why did this happen?” No explanation will reduce your pain. Besides, no answer is forthcoming, so don’t expect one.
Here are two better things that you can hold. First, hold on to every positive memory. A friend of mine uses the date that he quit drinking as his email address. Instead of focusing on “Why did I waste all of that time in a bottle?” he holds on to the positive: the date he chose a new and better life. When another friend’s husband left her for another woman, she let go of “Why did this happen?” so she could hold on to the good memories–like her two children!–and move to a place that included meeting a man who truly loves her.
Second, hold on to people that connect you with good memories. Moments ago, I read a letter from my daughter’s best friend who wrote me to say: “I love you, and I’m indescribably grateful to have you in my life.” I hold onto this dear child’s words, because this young woman may some day bear the children that my own deceased daughter will never have.
Be Willing to Reach Out
As songwriter Sternberg observed, when people start to fall, they reach out with their arms and legs and “walk like an Egyptian” to regain balance. Do the same thing when your world is rocked, when your heart is devastated: reach out.
A few months ago, I called a dear friend and neighbor in the middle of the day. Driving home from the store, a wave of grief washed over me and I had to pull over. This sweet friend left work to sit with me in my sorrow.
Don’t let pride get in your way, or thoughts like, “I don’t want to be a bother” keep you from reaching out for help when you’re hurting. And don’t become comfortable with isolating from others. That’s a dangerous place. If you don’t have friends or family members close at hand, be willing to see a healthcare professional or a counselor.
In addition to death and taxes, you will also experience trauma and loss in your life. Regardless of your typical day-to-day temperament or disposition, when traumatic times wash over you, you will walk differently, at least for a time. In grief, be okay with looking stupid. Hold onto every positive memory you have. And don’t allow yourself to sink beyond the help of a caring friend or professional.
If you care about someone stuck in grief, today is a good day to check on that person and to express your love and support.