The Grief Store
“The sorrow of great and small losses is a river that runs in the underground of all our lives.”
Roshi Joan Halifax
I shared with a dear friend recently that I had such a surplus of grief that I could open a grief store if anyone were buying.
But no one needs to buy grief. We all experience it, and that has rarely been so universally true as we’ve moved through a global pandemic.
We’ve all experienced great and small losses. Alas, some of us have been ill ourselves or watched loved ones suffer from covid-19 or perhaps even lost someone we care about to this disease. Maybe we have felt the effects less directly. Anxiety and depression levels are skyrocketing, and we might have suffered from both or shepherded a loved one through these painful emotions. I could go on: job loss, isolation, loneliness, etc.
Grief is about loss. We’ve all lost something.
So the question is now what do we do about it.
Once again, we can turn to that fount of wisdom, The Office, for help.
In an episode entitled “Grief Counseling,” Michael Scott learns that his former boss, Ed Truck, has died. At first, Michael is appropriately and mildly upset. However, when he shares the news with the rest of his staff, Kelly responds with immediate sympathy saying he must feel terrible, giving the always-seeking-the-spotlight Michael the attention that he constantly craves.
When Michael attempts to milk the situation, though, he discovers that there are limits to the patience of his staff and of his supervisor who rejects his proposal to erect a statue to Ed Truck—a man, it should be noted, whom the audience has met briefly before so that we know Michael’s grief comes not from deep friendship but is primarily about himself.
Michael’s solution is to hold a grief counseling session where he demands that each employee share a story of losing someone important; crying is okay, even encouraged. He goes first, saying Ed Truck’s death makes it feel as if “somebody took my heart and dropped it into a bucket of boiling tears. And, at the same time, somebody else is hitting my soul in the crotch with a frozen sledgehammer.
It all comes to a head when Toby attempts to reason with Michael (always a mistake, especially for Toby, Michael’s human resources nemesis) by telling him about a bird who died that morning by flying into the glass doors. Toby is reminding Michael that death is a universal fact of life.
Projecting all of his anguish on the bird, Michael rushes immediately to the parking lot to find its corpse, proclaiming that the office must hold a funeral for it.
Michael really does feel anguish and grief at this point, but it’s not for Ed Truck. What he feels is alone, isolated, and fearful that he will meet a lonely death with no one to mourn him.
So they have a bird funeral in the parking lot with a beautifully decorated bird casket, Dwight playing the recorder, a eulogy, and singing—all thanks to Pam who sees what is truly happening with Michael, a man who calls his employees family and aches for real emotional connection.
Therein lies the remedy for grief: connection.
Grief comes from a feeling of loss, but Buddhism reminds us that we are all interconnected, not only as family or as humans but to all life on the planet.
Grief connects us, and this has never been so true as it is now when each of us is grieving something or someone. Even as we may ache from the isolation that the pandemic has imposed, we can remind ourselves that we are not alone in our feelings of sorrow and loss.
Or, as Pam said at the funeral for the bird, “he was by himself when he died. But, of course, we all know that doesn’t mean he was alone.”