Stop Giving Us Grief

“Tears shed for another person are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of a pure heart.” – José N. Harris

Rethinking life

Grief is a strong, sometimes overwhelming emotion for people, regardless of whether their sadness stems from the loss of a loved one or from a terminal diagnosis they or someone they love have received. … Grief is the natural reaction to loss. Grief is both a universal and a personal experience.

Words matter however, we have become so use to throwing them around, out of context, we don’t even recognize it anymore. That leaves a lot of people forced to live with the consequences of simple word-smithing, it is all about the optic.. How many times have you told someone “Don’t give me any grief today?” or “God I’m depressed today” when really what you are is a little stressed. Those having to deal with “legitimate” mental health issues like diagnosable depression pay the price for that overly simplified expression. No wonder, teens in particular, are hesitant to speak out.

As provincial governments cut funding to so many supports we are slowly moving to the corporate sector to sanction mental health programs like Bells #LetsTalk day. Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the corporate world kicking in to help the marginalized however I shutter at the concept of promoting the idea that the corporate world can cure us of all of the societal issues that plague us in these times.

Our own complacency is leading us down the pathway to privatization of so many social program when the reality “privilege” drives change and privilege is a matter of perspective which should be applied using common sense. The Alberta governments Bill 220 is a prime example of that. Amending the Employment Standards Act to reflect the amount of time a person can take off as “grief leave” again removes the need for a common sense approach while moving us towards an “autocratic” government rather than a democratic system. We started regulating ourselves to death in the 80’s.

Growing up in a hospital full of polio kids it wasn’t uncommon to “lose” the occasional friend. Like it or not, people also die in hospitals. As I mentioned in my last post this pandemic has opened the floodgates of so many buried memories. These were memories we tended to bury when a painful situation happens. Shortly after this pandemic started I woke up one morning in tears. It was like a huge wave had hit me but the undertow was dragging me back. I woke up with a vivid memory of my 8 year old roommate, from when I was 10, He looked briefly at me and said “Terry I have to go” then closed his eyes. As a ten year old I thought he had just awoken from a bad dream and wanted to make me aware.

I had no idea until the nurses came in and began wrapping him up to transfer to a gurney. That was the “final ride” that would happen in the night. Besides his hemophilia Peter had a multitude of pre-existing conditions that wouldn’t have contributed to a long life but as a ten year old you don’t think of those things, you bury the memory along with the body. Most ten year olds still have not developed the cognitive acuity needed to handle such “abstract” concepts. Healthcare back then was no where near where we are now but so many people (like those born after 1980) don’t realize that.

A black and white picture of two nurses practicing hydrotherapy on five young polio survivor in the hydro pool
Hydro therapy in the polio days

Healthcare was a completely different world prior to post WW2 and into the polio epidemic years. I had suppressed so many memories, they are now like “fireworks” going off in my over-stuffed memory file. I can’t even guess at how many hours I spend in one of these “hydro tanks” (yes that is what they were called back then) but it was part of stretching therapy. When you had been in a full leg cast for three months.

This particular surgery involved transferring a part of the “bicep femoris” muscle from the back of my right leg, sewing it through the knee joint to supplement the weakened “quadricep muscle group”. The health technology of the day required about three months in that cast followed by weeks more of physio while they stretched that muscle back to the point where you could bend your knee properly. I left more head marks on the stainless steel walls of the pool than I care to remember. The physio (also a relatively new speciality) always had to stretch the knee about 2 degrees further than you felt they should but it did get rid of my right leg brace.

A poster reading "Your trauma is valid, even if other people have experienced "worse".  Even if someone else went through the same experience doesn't feel debilitated by it".  My caption on it reads, trauma is valid but it is not a competition
Your trauma is valid but it is not a competition

The healthcare system I grew up in was based on the misguided assumption that we would all end up in long term care institutions. And they were preparing us for that. The idea that the “community” could be modified to accommodate polio kids was pretty absence in those times. They had no regulations, legislation or by-laws. They just had a misguide sense of “taking care” of. What society didn’t understand was that healthcare and technology were about to collide with the demand for independence growing by the decade. Polio kid hospitals were teaching us, not only to survive, but to thrive. A regular component of physio (started around the time I was 8 years old) was being lined up, 10 to 12 of us, in front of a large mirrored wall and tumbling mats (again the technology of the day, tumbling mats were nothing more than an old mattress with the stuffing beat out of it). We would all be on our crutches looking at the mirror while the physio walked back and forth behind us. When the mood struck her she would shove one of us so we fell over (always forward) but to this day my muscle memory is to quickly go into a relaxed mode if I fell. That was the purpose of that particular exercise. It wasn’t cruel, it was “production” line physio that was meant to make us better survivors.

In today’s world of regulation and legislation my heart goes out to these kids being admitted with COVID, not so much as how they will be treated today, healthcare has come a long way,

Picture of me (1975) in a leather tasseled vest, captioned "35 years before Post Polio hit, the "long haul" effect of polio
35 years before Post Polio hit, the “long haul” effect of polio

It took 35 years for the polio “long haul” equivalent to hit, Post Polio Syndrome. To lose my ability to walk and be totally dependent on a wheelchair was like discovering “disability” for the first time. It is a good thing the polio kids were educated well enough to be their own advocates but I really wasn’t prepared at just how dismal the advances made in the 80’s had become. Life in a chair is a lot different than life had been when I could ambulate. Access took on a whole new meaning, it wasn’t as evident as I thought it would be. I was stuck on the idea that “built” access had been dealt with. There are now libraries full of legislation and regulations that allow developers to bypass any types of “accessible design” and that is a process called “variances”, something City Planning gives out like candy at Halloween.

But now this Bill 220 is a provincial government continuing to stifle common sense. Everybody griefs differently, it is not something that should be enshrined in legislation by restricting it to three days especially during a health pandemic.

#GetVaccinated and stay healthy, until next time…


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