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Meg Miller Gariot Louima ENG 251 Scholarly Personal Narrative June 18 2013 Loss of Brother, Loss of Self: A Return to Family January 25, 2007. Evening. Several things happened simultaneously my dad muttered grumpily as Anne Hathaway flitted across the screen to embrace her long lost lover in her newest chick flick; my mom reached for the tissues; I peered over my geometry book at the TV screen; the phone rang. I happily cast off my math homework, grateful for the distraction as I picked up the phone. The caller was my moms ex-husband, a man we never talked about because he was the reason her nose is a little crooked and her left hand cant close all the way. I had spoken to him only a handful of times in my life, and I remembered his voice as hard and gruff. The last syllables of his sentences were always a little staccato, like his miserly personality extended to his speech and he wished he didnt have to part with so many of his precious words. I couldnt imagine growing up and not being afraid of that voice and wondered if his tone was softer at all when he was raising my brother, Eric. Something was off, though. This voice wasnt so much hard as it was raw, breaking as he asked for my mom. That should have been a tip-off, but it wasnt. I had a better idea when my moms face blanched after a few seconds with her ear to the receiver. There was only one thing that Jim could tell her that would shape her face into that kind of mask of twisted horror. She opened her mouth; it looked like she was trying to scream but nothing came out. Eric was dead. He accidentally overdosed in his apartment, on an improvised cocktail of prescription and other drugs. Just like that, he was gone. No more Eric.

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The numbness set in almost immediately and lasted through the funeral and the memorial service and the better part of my freshman year of high school. I didnt go with my parents to the morgue to identify the body and make transportation arrangements to the funeral home. I still squirm when CSI or Law and Order or any shows where the John or Jane Doe are splayed out on the hard, steel morgue table, illuminated by the sickly glow of an overhead lamp. It looks uncomfortable and lonely. I stayed home with CoCo Bean, the brown stuffed bear that functioned as confidant, co-conspirator, and source of fuzzy cuddles for, first, a baby Eric and then a baby Meg. I wish I had gone. Maybe it would have given me closure, some physical evidence that Eric was gone. His absence his sudden, unplanned disappearance from my world is the only thing that really lets me know hes gone. The numbness and silence continued, as everything did, or as everything does. The dreams and night terrors continued. My parents were worried and sent me to a therapist. She told me about the stages of grief and that I probably was in flux between different stages and should take some mood stabilizers until my mind was better able to handle what had happened. I didnt take the pills she prescribed, I didnt like the way she talked about my mind or my grief, and I didnt like her or her stupid dog she brought to the office with her. I stuck with the therapist because I knew it helped my mom to think I was getting the help I needed, that some part of the empty chasm in me was slowly getting patched back together through the fine masonry of contemporary psychology. My therapist seemed to want me to forget or at least forget for most of the day so that I could function somewhat normally and be a productive member of society again. A teacher once remarked that my homework wasnt going to stop existing because I was sad. So I stopped talking about Eric, stopped the zombie behavior that scared the hell out of my parents. I banished

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Eric to a small corner of myself for safekeeping, a mangled treasure just for me that I wouldnt have to share with anyone else. Sometimes I would take his memories out and admire them like a fine jewel, marveling at the vivid memories that they always refracted, astonished and slightly relieved that they could still make me hurt so much. I didnt need or want any pills or to talk about it. I needed time to work things out, to heal with my family. But my parents had to go back to work, I had to go to school, and we stopped trying to get through it. We didnt heal; we pretended like we forgot. I dont think any of us are in a very good place, even so many years after the loss. We dont get enough time to grieve in our culture. Grieving isnt a socially acceptable thing. People dont know how to deal with it. Its not a topic that anyone wants to talk about. The ushers society assigns to guide us along the path to recovery push the quick deal-with-it fixes, like Prozac and mood stabilizers, numbing us at varying degrees until we can join the world again, the sooner the better. My family was cut loose from general society and left to drift, each in our own little makeshift lifeboat, not really even tethered together anymore. Ive recently become very interested in learning about the ways that different people and different groups of people cope with the grieving process. Perhaps this has been a rebellion of sorts stemming from my intense displeasure and disappointment with my own grieving experience. Surely there had to have been another way; it should have been different. Everyone cannot grieve in the way that my family and I experienced. There has to be a healthier, more restorative way. No one ever really gets over a loss of a loved one, but surely there have to be more effective ways to get through the loss. My nuclear family does not practice a religion, and neither of my parents belong to clubs, social organizations, or any other sort of community in which they could find comfort and

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solace. My grandmother is a devout Catholic, and sometimes I envied the religious balm she was able to liberally apply to her grief. Grandma Nagy is a hurricane of a woman. She had outlived her seven siblings and both her parents by the time she was ten, most of whom died trying to flee Hungary and the Nazi campaign that claimed thousands of lives there. Her family wasnt targeted for their faith but rather their Roma Gypsy heritage. She met my grandfather on the train to Dayton, Ohio, after she somehow managed the voyage across the Atlantic and found her way to the sizable Hungarian community in Dayton. She has never gone into great detail about her formative years instead she begins her personal narrative by detailing her first date with my grandfather. This is where her life history begins now. She has whitewashed the previous years of her life and started anew. I asked my grandmother after Erics funeral how it felt for her to lose her brothers and sisters, if the pain ever became easier to bear. Her eyes were soft and she held me tight. She told me she had said her goodbyes years ago,and wiped her hands of her family. Too many people had lost too much, and she couldnt hold on to that much pain anymore. Remembering was too difficult and left too little room for the living; better to sponge out all memories and focus on life. A good friend described her Jewish communitys response to a death, recalling that the whole community would prepare impossible amounts of food for the affected family, suffocating the family with love and support. All of the basic daily tasks of life were taken care of, so that the family could support and be present for each others grief. Death was not a taboo subject for her community, and everyone knew how to respond. I cant even imagine how differently things would have turned out for my family if we had such a strong community to support us when we couldnt support ourselves. Family friends felt uncomfortable visiting our house, which had

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fallen silent and sad. The odd family member would pop by occasionally, but our family is small and scattered throughout the tri-state area. In his book Sixty Million Frenchmen Cant Be Wrong, Jean-Benot Nadeau highlights the rigid divide between what the French perceive as private or public spheres of existence. When conversing with a new acquaintance, Americans gravitate toward questions such as: Whats your name? What do you do for work? Do you have brothers or sisters? Where did you grow up? The French would never ask these questions of someone they had just met because the answers to such questions belong to the private sphere of a persons life. Personally, this separation makes sense, and I would have welcomed such culturally-reinforced parameters. In the US, questions like family construction are fair game for getting-to-know-you banter, though they can be a debilitating conversation stopper for some people who have certain triggers. I have only recently been able to more easily answer the innocently asked question of do you have any siblings? without totally choking up. Sometimes I answer with no because its easier than giving the backstory necessary for a conditional yes. This feels dishonest and disrespectful to Eric; I dont want to disown him, and I always cringe at the oh the life of an only child comments that tend to follow if I answer with no. Martha Fowlkes discusses the social regulation of grief, researching and analyzing behavioral manifestations that either permit or deny the individual mourner access to a socially legitimate grief role. Society has allotted certain time limits for expressing grief for different types of losses. I heard the refrain there is no timetable on grief over and over again after my sporadic breakdowns, but although it is a favorite fallback phrase, I feel that this is no where near the truth. There are different expectations for standardized reactions to the loss of a colleague, a friend, or a family member, and these losses are socially given moral values and generally

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thought to be legitimate losses because such people and relationships possess virtual social identities. Such losses can be undervalued by those on the outside of the grieving process but are rarely devalued to the extent of stigmatized relationships (where social disapproval of persons or relationships affected by the grieving process occur). Fowlkes not only describes the mechanics of social regulation of grief but explores the implications: ... even under the so-called best of circumstances, the modern American grief experience is often an unusually difficult one. Thank you, Martha Fowlkes. That is exactly what I was thinking. When our culture is faced with shocking and horrific losses, such as the tragic events at Sandyhook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut, it seems like the entire country enters a brief mourning period in solidarity with those affected. The media milks the story for all its worth, drawing out and putting the traumatic events on instant replay. True, death in these instances is made visible. However, media coverage of event like Sandyhook does not strike me as good visibility. It is a sensationalized caricature with little purpose other than shock value. I gave a report on Abraham Lincoln at some point in my elementary school career a riveting portrayal, Im sure - but the only detail that I recall was that upon his death he was paraded across the country by rail so that the U.S. populace could see his body. It seems our collective American rituals surrounding death have morphed in modern America. Now, death is sterile and private. It has been reduced to a more manageable occurrence, and people seem more concerned that grief makes them uncomfortable than the actual grief of someone who has lost a loved one. Another conversation about divergent cultural grieving patterns centered on the very public death rituals in Greece. Greek funerals often hire on additional mourners, and the wailing of the funeral procession can be heard from many city streets away. Funeral processions through

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the streets and the body held aloft by pallbearers are a common scene and commonplace community activity. Death and grieving is a communal process, and there are many rituals that involve the community in the grieving process. Community members are expected to pay their respects to the deceased at a living room wake, offering food and condolences for the surviving family. Grief is a part of public life, often with positive impacts on emotional health. Grief is not repressed in Greek culture, as it is in the U.S., and a cathartic release is practically a demand of the grieving process. My Greek friends grandmother, a widow of more than ten years, still visits her husbands grave every week for an evening of visiting and storytelling. Anna Wierzbicka considers grief to be a concept that is culture-bound and uses linguistic research to contrast the Anglo cultural perspective with French, Russian, Chinese, and Pintupi (a Central Australian language). She sees grief as a temporary and exceptional interruption normal life. Counseling for grief is something that is not as easily imaginable for its linguistic counterparts of malheur, nescastie, gore, etc, indicating that something is different in how we interface with the emotion. Grief is not a category of experience to be encoded in language. It is an experience already filtered through the conceptual schema of the English word grief. This conceptual schema provides a culture-specific perspective on the raw experience, gives it coherence, and suggests ways of coping with it. Grief brackets death and the suffering it brings to others, against the backdrops of the normal life. The ethnographer Jane Wellenkamp studies grief as experienced by the Toraja of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. The Toraja mourning process is described as influenced by cooling and heating, and there are many elaborate cultural traditions among the Toraja that deal with death. The Toraja link strong emotions with health and link health (mental or physical) with coolness. During these periods of heat, crying, wailing, and other socially-visible displays of emotion are

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necessary in order to bring the catharsis of health and coolness. Death is given much cultural visibility, indicated by the linguistic intricacies that describe the different stages of mourning a person may be in. The Toraja mourning process struck me as incredibly intuitive. I felt hot emotions after the loss of my brother, such as waves of anger and sadness in which I could do little but cry and give in to the stimulus overflow. I was seeking release and the catharsis of mental coolness, but could gain no purchase against the forceful undertow of depression. There were no socially acceptable outlets, no cultural escape for my grief. My emotional response to my grief was stunted and my response was silence, first in the most literal sense and then silencing my grief by ignoring it. Anne Woodrick explores the expressions of grief and bereavement among the Mayan women residing in Northern Yucatn, where the death of loved one is seen as a type of abandonment. The grief and anger experienced by Yucatec women is seen as illnesses of sentiment and nerves and is re-lived each time a new abandonment takes place. Woodrick describes a paradox of abandonment among these Yucatec women, where they anticipate the loss and abandonment of everyone who plays an important role in their lives. In the Yuteca tradition, after death, all hostility and evil are perceived to be expelled from the body, allowing for a new relationship between the deceased and the mourner. This continued relationship indicates that mental recovery from death does not necessitate an acceptance and separation from the deceased. Long-term mourning for these Yucatec women actually fulfills their need to be unconditionally loved. Woodricks work with Yucatec women left me reeling: here were women who spent their entire lives in mourning in preparation for their eventual abandonment when loved ones die. I

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had never heard of anything even remotely like this, where grieving had so permeated the collective psyche that it was present even without the loss of a loved one. Deep relationships for these Yucatec women really only begin after they experience a loss because it is only in death that you can love someone in ways impossible in life, when your relationship is tainted by fears of abandonment and loss. I understand how such a cultural reaction to grief could have evolved; I experienced the Yucatec phenomenon to some degree myself. After Erics death, my relationships with my parents, family, and friends were tainted by a morbid fixation on when they, too, were going to leave me. Anxious dreams constantly woke me from what little respite I was able to find from my difficult days. Night after night I would witness my parents gruesome deaths at the hands of my sadistic unconscious and awake unable to shake the intense feelings of abandonment and loss that inevitably followed. The Yucatec approach just assume its going to happen and dont attach yourself too much to anyone in this light seems like a logical mechanism of protection. I am still struggling with this problem and must force myself to stay rooted in the present, concentrating on what is happening now rather than what could happen tomorrow. My exploration into cultural coping mechanisms has had a surprising impact on my family. We are beginning to find our way back to each other through structured dialogue, comparing notes on how we feel affinities to certain ways of grieving and resistance to others. Death is no longer the taboo subject in my household that it is in greater American society. We have not begun to process our family grief, but at least we can now acknowledge that through a devastating twist of fate we lost a beloved brother and son. This is a major breakthrough, and though it is a baby step, it is the first family step in the right direction since the evening of January 25, 2007.

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Was there a different, better way? Maybe. Could I set Erics memories adrift and wash my hands of his grief, like my grandmother did her nameless siblings? I know in my heart that this is something I am unable to do, something entirely impossible. If remembering Eric and honoring him means that I must accept and deal with the repercussions of his absence from my life, so be it. I choose, now, to grieve him. I choose the catharsis and coolness of the Toraja, though I must find that mental clarity and coolness on my own as there are no cultural structures in place to support me when I cannot support myself. I do not choose the quick-fixes espoused by my therapists, nor will I forget Eric. I will not appease our bizarre cultural disdain for grief by muddling through my education and career in a haze of unresolved grief and an overload of emotional baggage. No, I would much rather be like a Greek widow and make visible my loss and his life. For that is what I believe is at the crux of grieving for me. How do I pay homage to a life and keep that life with me after they have left me? I am still left with more questions than answers. When will my parents and I finally be able to talk about Eric in a normal tone of voice? When will my Mom stop crying whenever she sees a red-headed baby that reminds her of Eric? When will I stop having night terrors? When, when, when? I dont know the when answer to any of these questions, and that is finally okay for me. Society has been rendered inflexible in their expectation of my grief, but I no longer hold myself to those unhelpful standards. So it took me five years to get to the point where I can reflect and take stock of my emotional state big deal. Im grieving now. Life is continuing, and I am changing. I was numb and silent for a long time, but now I feel and I have a voice. I am grieving now, in ways I couldnt and wasnt allowed to years ago.

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Annotated Bibliography Brison, Karen J., and Leavitt, Stephen C. Coping with Bereavement: Long-Term Perspectives on Grief and Mourning. Ethos , Vol. 23, No. 4, Coping with Bereavement (Dec., 1995), pp. 395-400. Brison and Leavitt examine the process of mourning and the connection between cultural context and how an emotion is experienced on an individual and communal level. The authors compare several studies to generate a cross-cultural exploration not only of diverse mourning processes but of the implications on the entire community. Culture reshapes the experience of suffering, and suffering reshapes entire systems of cultural beliefs. The authors indicate that the academic conversation on ethnopsychology needs to move from studies of the newly bereaved to the longterm adjustments following the experience of death. Fowlkes, Martha R. The Social Regulation of Grief. Sociological Forum , Vol. 5, No. 4 (Dec., 1990), pp. 635-652. Martha Fowlkes discusses the social regulation of grief, researching and analyzing behavioral manifestations that dictate a mourners access to socially legitimized or de-legitimized grief. Society has allotted certain time limits for expressing grief for different types of losses. There are different expectations for standardized reactions to the loss of a colleague, a friend, or a family member, and these losses are socially given moral values and generally thought to be legitimate losses because such people and relationships possess virtual social identities. Such losses can be undervalued by those on the outside of the grieving process, but are rarely devalued to the extent of stigmatized relationships (where social disapproval of persons or relationships affected by the grieving process).

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Wierzbicka, Anna. Emotion and Culture: Arguing with Martha Nussbaum. Ethos , Vol. 31, No. 4 (Dec., 2003), pp. 577-600. In this piece, Weirzbicka analyzes key points made in Martha Nuassbaums Upheavals of Thoughts: The Intelligence of Emotions. Wierzbicka faults Naussbaum for failing to discuss the impact of language in the humans experience grief. Grief, in Wierzbickas opinion, is not a universal experience but rather a subjective experience greatly influenced by linguistic intricacies. Using the English, Russian, French, Chinese, and Pintupi languages, Wierzbicka strives to give a cross-cultural perspective on the experience of grief. Woodrick, Anne C. A Lifetime of Mourning: Grief Work among Yucatec Maya Women. Ethos, Vol. 23, No. 4, Coping with Bereavement (Dec., 1995), pp. 401-423. Anne Woodrick explores the expressions of grief and bereavement among the Mayan women residing in Northern Yucatn, where the death of loved one is seen as a type of abandonment. The grief and anger experienced by Yucatec women is seen as illnesses of sentiment and nerves and is re-lived each time a new abandonment takes place. Woodrick describes a paradox of abandonment among these Yucatec women, where they anticipate the loss and abandonment of everyone who plays an important role in their lives. In the Yucatec tradition, after death, all hostility and evil are perceived to be expelled from the body, allowing for a new relationship between the deceased and the mourner. This continued relationship indicates that mental recovery from death does not necessitate an acceptance and separation from the deceased. Long-term mourning for these Yucatec women actually fulfills their need to be unconditionally loved.