Never I had thought that my last post on the experience of CoViD19 would be my final one. That post looked at the fatigued experience of when will the Lockdown end and things return to something that’s near normal? But something as cruel and life affecting has appeared on the horizon and I am drawn to look at this too. This post is serialised.
The events of the past few weeks coincide with events over the past few months. They appear to have met and produced a swell of human reaction and protest that would have been hard to imagine last year or even 20 years ago. The following few posts will discuss these ideas further.
What if there were more than 5 grief stages to processing loss or death. A recent conversation with the Black men’s therapy group helped me to revisit a long held belief and choose another way to be with loss.
Staged and known Kubler Ross invites us to imagine the process of managing grief in a range of steps or *awareni that one encounters. The original 5 are useful to frame the experience of being bereaved. Discussing Loss and Bereavement with the introduction to Counselling course for Black Men group, other stages were discussed and arrived at organically. The group not only challenged the 5 previous well known stages but provided reason why further stages may need to be added.
Avoidance Denial presents shock as a 1st step of the process of encountering the magnitude of loss. A person can attempt to deny that death has occurred. Watching the 2nd season of New Amsterdam a hospital employee is invited often to review their grief process which is firmly rooted in denial. I will choose not to spoil the exploits of the new season of a well told hospital drama. The ending of the 1st season of New Amsterdam was a true shocker. The 2nd season has continued to enthrall me, and was filled with most of the emotions and experiences of the Kubler Ross model of processing grief Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance.
Trading Places Bartering is another of the initial experiences of processing death. I know I visited this state when I finally admitted to myself that my mother was dieing. This was back in 1993. I bartered my own life away for the sake of hers. To who better than God. I wanted to trade places with her, that if she was left to live that I would attend church and believe like no other Christian ever has before.
I vowed to give up my adherent addiction to comic books, to stop playing basketball, even attending university for the vain hope that my mother could continue to draw breath. Bartering as a stage is pure psychotic belief in one’s own unrealised potential to make the impossible real. It’s a stage close to madness. I ask, for what good reason would the universe listen to my small offerings? There is no significant pay off universally. To what end? Really? What changes if one entity is exchanged for another? Sorry. No deal.
Fury Then we arrive at Anger. Now this delicious unrelenting energy giving force of furious energy makes all the other feelings of emotional turmoil seem like a breeze. Paltry. Ineffective. Like Meh! Anger at death is another psychotic experience where we can lose ourselves in rages of senseless fury. Arguing with others (family) friends and loved ones (partners) and ourselves for all that they or you could have done more of to mitigate/stop the deceased from dieing. The point here is you or I don’t have those superhuman powers. Ours is to love. Be consumed by the hurt that our sense of attachment has brought us into intimate contact with. And recognise that there is little left to replace us with the person who has gone.
Pressed On Acknowledging the hurt can bring us into the uncomfortable 4th stage of the grieving process. Depression. This stage can be unpredictable slow and long. It can also be a dark stage. Ideas both alien and life threatening can enter ones thinking. Behaviours like self-harm, self-isolation, suicide, drug misuse, reckless acts that increase risk to self and others appear to make sense. This stage is a hard one to navigate. Don’t do it alone. Find others to help. Speak to friends. Speak with the one who has gone. Write them a letter, sing them a song. Visit their favourite place and say what you dared not to before. Feel the feelings and recognise that they ebb and flow, wax and wane. Depression isn’t the final destination it’s the wet dark space we get to sometimes pass through. Usually to get to another space. A brighter place. It took roughly 2 years for me to move beyond this stage.
Release Acceptance is often seen as the final stage to the Kubler-Ross grief process and supports the person who is grieving to come upon a sort of deliverance. Some speak of the light at the end of the tunnel. I found acceptance to be like the weight I was struggling under, lift off of me in gradual stages. Which met the time I left Cambridgeshire and returned to London, the city of my birth. I felt hopeful and excited finally, about the possibility of what had the potential to be.
Frank Morrison’s Art I have long admired. This work is titled as Arithmetic. The pose of both students is emblematic…
The state of education
My eldest son aged 11, came home from school recently and shared that he had concerns about his experiences that have troubled and alarmed me. As his father I want nothing more than to protect and shield him from the shadier elements of London living. I realise however the contradiction as I write, because I have worked in prisons for over four years. I have also worked with vulnerable people on the margins of society and that live in the shade for over 8 years. Deepening and grading my perspective considerably.
Working for almost 4 years with Together a National charity that supported service users and probation officers and courts in London. Together’s highly skilled team of practitioners provide mental health support and psycho education to service users involved within London’s criminal Justice System.
‘*Shade is a factor of life, it precedes and follows light.’
My son has moved from a well-resourced primary school with a committed PTA (Parent Teacher Association) with middle class values and expectations to a secondary school that whilst being in the same neighborhood seems to not be as well supported. The commitment the school has appears geared to raising it’s educational achievements as a secondary school. The social and emotional development of it’s pupils seems to have been overlooked. The documentary called School emphasises what the lack of investment and resources has meant for secondary schools across the country.
My son reports that nearly every day there are playground fights and his year group are involved with something called “violating” other pupils. A form of engaging negatively with another pupil that shames them and makes them either react aggressively or retreat from social engagements. Which can have a huge social impact on students – limiting the scope of making firm social connections and friends and bearing witness to the challenges of inner city life.
John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons on Netflix is a phenomenal expose on growing up ‘Othered’ within a country that does not want to accept it’s involvement with the systematic destruction and demonisation of several groups of people and their cultures. Ghetto Rage is a topic of interest John mentioned that I will further investigate and write about soon.
As a 40 something year old man I don’t understand the culture of school being a site for malevolence and cruelty committed by pupils as vulnerable as peers of my son’s against fellow pupils. Being assertive is a factor of living learning and growing. Bullying as part of systemic form of disorganised peer oppression troubles me.
My son simply does not want to go to his school or participate in any of the senseless acts of pseudo violence, passive and active forms of aggression as a result, or other acts of hyper masculinity that seem to have besieged his year group. What is going wrong I wonder with state education? Why are young women and young men acting in harmful ways to other children and themselves and what can we all do about it?
I doubt I will be able to find the answers in this piece of writing however I can raise my concerns and offer ideas of possible ways forward. I wonder if a member of parliament’s child were attending my son’s state school what they would think/see/feel?
I am disappointed that the choices we are left to think through are: exiting the school, non-attendance and living with a sense of anxiety that has grown in my son and through our family. The social development versus academic achievement focus appears to have been the split that this school has made.
The thinking I have is that the school has grossly under estimated the effect that the focus and pressure toward academia could have on it’s key stage 3 and 4 progression results and overall exam achievements. A socially and emotionally balanced pupil could perform academically better. Not just at exams but in life also.
Perhaps another way is to be found with education that invites collaboration, communication and creativity. Few children my son included are without the curiosity to look for answers or create story’s that make sense of the worlds that they inhabit. For their, our children’s, worlds are different to ours. They face challenges that are new for the planet, maybe we should be teaching all differently…