The Masks of Grief


BY: Diane Snyder Cowan

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

This is a good time of year to talk about the masks of grief. Earlier and earlier, stores, television and the radio market Halloween. Decorations, candy, costumes and masks are everywhere. And masks are a great metaphor for the bereaved.

The purpose of a mask is to cover or conceal. Think about how often we put on masks that say… Look at me, I’m fine.  The phrase, I’m fine, is stated by everybody at least once a day. For many, it’s a lie we tell ourselves as much as we tell others. On the inside, we may be far from fine. We may be reeling with emotions.  Sometimes, we may even put up a mask internally when we are afraid to look at our own innermost bits and pieces. Perhaps we fear that we’ll crumble and fall apart.

Every now and then we need to wear a mask.  We may want to project a certain image and wearing a mask helps us play the part.  Some people refer to this as the… fake it ‘til you make it approach. And of course, we have masks for various occasions. There are masks we wear at work, at home, at school, and in the community.  But, it’s important to recognize what mask we are wearing so that we do so with care and remember how to take them off. From time to time, we must take a deep look inside.

One activity we do with school age children and adolescents at Together We Can grief camp, is create inner and outer masks to increase awareness of our feelings. Once the campers can recognize and label these feelings, they are encouraged to share their innermost ones with the group—where they are safe and their feelings will be accepted.

As an adult, you may or may not want to actually create a mask, but consider what one might look like. To see the mask you wear outward, look to other’s reactions towards you. Your inner mask may be more difficult to picture, but it’s worth the effort to look deep. Stuffing feelings far below the surface can result in a plethora of mind, body and spirit symptoms. Remember, you do not have to grieve alone.

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