Poems & Essays

15 Nov

Terms of Debridement: Living in Grief

In Mother Words Blog One Response

“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”
(Henry VI, Part III, Act II, Scene I, Line 85)

I have learned something important about grief from wound care.

Last summer, before my days shifted into darkness and just before everything I have ever been sure of in my world dissolved, I wrote an essay about the curious medical language of wound care. 

In May and June of 2018, I accompanied my then 94-year-old aunt Virginia on her weekly visits to the  Presbyterian Hospital Dallas wound clinic to treat the stubborn, angry wound she suffered from somehow hitting the outside of right ankle on her wheelchair. It simply refused to heal. The folks at Presbyterian Village North, her assisted living home, had run out of options. 

At that time, little did I know that in a matter of weeks, my precious son Elliot would soar over the miserably inadequate barrier on the LBJ TEXpress entrance ramp – while riding his beloved motorcycle. 

Little did I know that my brilliant firstborn son, a truly astonishing human by all accounts,  would take his last shallow breath in just over a month at that same hospital – where he also took his first breath just 26 years prior.  It’s all too much to process and handle for this bereaved mom. To tell you the truth, it takes every ounce of my depleted energy to barely function every day – still, over a year later. How do I ever breathe at all?  Some days, it takes effort, and  in some ways, it’s getting more difficult with each passing moment.

One of the reasons is this peculiar and uncomfortable statute of limitations on grief we perpetuate in American culture. Our “get over it, because it makes me uncomfortable” vibe is like living every day with a sheet of Saran wrap on your face. And no one seems to notice you can’t breathe.

I know it’s unpleasant. I know people mean well. But death sucks. It’s unavoidable. I know they don’t know what to say, but we all need to figure it out – and do a better job seeing each other and caring for each other emotionally. It’s not weakness. We need to stop ranting at each other about all the “big, bad  -isms” – and start paying attention to individuals with open hearts and minds. Being  resent one on one is what matters – life and death matters.

The loss of a child is an emotional wound beyond measure –  one you will never get over. You must learn a new way to live. My soul sister Patty says, “If the loss of child were a physical wound, we’d be in the ER.” I’m not saying we all need psychology degrees. It’s about intentional acknowledgement – recognizing the profound wounds of loss – physical and emotional – early and often. 

The fact is that we need to talk about the loss to move ahead.  I treasure the friends most who say Elliot’s name and ask me to talk about him. His friends, Chase, Brian and Alec. They are angels on earth. Overwhelming loss is the deepest, the most insidious kind of wound. 

Grief needs air to heal. 

We can’t just let it scab over and ignore the tissue below. And, like my aunt’s deep, festering physical wound, an emotional wound often needs debridement, as well.  

That’s one of the wound words that truly resonates. You may think talking about Elliot will upset me, but that’s exacting what I need. It triggers the pain, but the tears are a tonic. The pain never goes away, anyway. Not ever. But, pain plays a role —  signaling that something is horribly wrong, rallying the  body’s resources – calling in the Navy Seals of the heart! 

Technically, debridement is the term for the medical procedure that deliberately aggravates the wound in order to help it heal. With grief, we must do that – revisit the pain that makes us physically wince. It’s a necessary cringe, but we must not linger there. Telling and retelling our stories – that is our task. Finding situations and people who will listen and support us unconditionally is essential – people who give us the space to remember our losses and foreshadow what they mean for our futures. These people are rare and cherished. Without their divine grace, we will never completely emerge from this murky miasma (one of Elliot’s favorite words).

With debridement, we remove the unhealthy tissue and promote the healing – exposing a new day. The body is designed to heal, but it gets stuck in the muck. Pain tells us something is wrong – but wound becomes senescent when it is “old,” when the cells are alive and metabolically active are not capable of dividing and thriving. It is merely surviving, not thriving.

We can’t let that state persist – with unattended wounds scabbing over, harboring our deepest traumas. 

It’s time to get real – and get present.

Elaine Gantz Wright is a published writer, ghostwriter and artist living in Dallas, Texas. She is the single mother of two extraordinary and brilliant young men — Ian, a gifted visual artist and recent graduate of Purdue University, and Elliot, an insatiable iconoclast and musician, who died suddenly and tragically in a motorcycle accident on August 5, 2018. As Elaine navigates her own grief journey, she is passionate about supporting other shattered hearts on this most agonizing of paths. She studied theater arts at Northwestern University and received an MBA/MA in arts administration from Southern Methodist University.

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1 Comment

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  1. Bonner B Odell

    November 16, 2019 at 5:48 am

    Thank you for this. Your son Elliot sounds like a very special human being. My heart goes out to you as you grieve his death.

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