Yes, you read that right.
It struck me when I was in the shower, that sacred thinking time when enlightenment visits. As I rinsed my hair I recalled the many conversations I had with others about my short career in professional wrestling. Most of them involved the other person assuredly telling me that professional wrestling wasn’t real and therefore didn’t count.
It didn’t count? On what scorecard?
This may be the time you’d like me to back up and fill in the gaping hole about how a professional wrestler became a grief photographer. That would take a while, so I’ll say that I had the opportunity to do something I’d always wanted to do and believed was out of my reach. I didn’t want to wonder what it would have been like if I had the courage to try. I did it and I loved, and I learned a lot about myself.
I learned, for example, that my Greco Roman (the “real” wrestling in the Olympics and on smelly high school and university mats worldwide) experience didn’t help me as much as I thought it would. I learned that the “fake” wrestling required strength, stamina, partnership, and agility in ways I didn’t anticipate. The outcomes of matches were planned, sure. The punches aren’t like they are in boxing, and yet they aren’t totally benign. Picking up and tossing a person of any size is a big task. Being tossed hurts.
I know that because I've been there. I’ve nursed the injuries.
Grief is a lot like that. The outcome in one case is certain. Both involve grappling. Both require strength and training. Both demand athleticism and flexibility.
It is human to apply the experience we have to what we take in. When someone we love grieves, we apply the grief filter we know. The trouble is that my grief filter and your grief filter are different. Mine may be fake and yours real, or vice versa.
How many times has someone said, “I know how you feel” as a response to your grief? How many times have you been treated to a story about how the other person’s experience was much more severe, mournful, overwhelming, devastating, or whatever else than yours? How many times have you heard that maybe it’s time to move on and get over your loss?
While I don’t want to advocate for being stuck and not asking for, or recognizing the need for, help, I can see how the world sorts grief into Greco Roman and fake (or professional) wrestling. Greco Roman, the real stuff, is what people experience themselves. That’s where we feel like we have experience. That’s where compassion and empathy live.
Professional wrestling is grief other people experience. It’s somehow not as pure or as worthy. It’s not that people question that it is “real” grief; it’s that they are quick to dismiss it when it doesn’t fit within their own experience. They dismiss it if they don’t have the capability to practice empathy or compassion. They don’t understand, and they don’t need to.
I gave up defending my professional wrestling experience as legitimate, demanding work. Anyone who knew me during that time watched me accumulate nasty bruises and put on a lot of muscle; they could see behind the scenes. Those people are the same ones I call on now when I need support during grief. They know my wrestling, my grief, is real.
The people who dismiss my experience right away aren’t people with whom I concern myself. It took many years for me to see that I can’t make anyone see my point of view, nor should I focus on that. My grief is for me, and it’s unique because my attachment and relationship are different.
That fake wrestling adventure was for me, too.
I see a lot of incredible moments of the human experience while being with families in love and grief. From each family I learn, and those lessons and points to ponder are what I wish to share with you here.