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Primal Scream

The human body is wired with an organic alarm system

Our emotional alarms are triggered by different stimulus. Go to a rock concert or a Redskins game and you’ll experience a wide variety of alarm sounds. Conversely, sit in an emergency room or attend a funeral service for a young, tragic death and the alarm sounds are very different. Cultural influences impact these alarms. Attend a Middle Eastern funeral and the alarm volume is much louder. Watch a kid rip open that one Christmas present he has been obsessing over and a delirious alarm will pierce the ears. Some alarms sound as a result of just being happy.

I have a video my daughter sent me of my (then) three-year old granddaughter, Ella. Her mom silently videoed her as she was standing on her little step stool playing in the kitchen sink.Ella was singing her song, making it up as she went along; a song about how to wash an apple! It was a spontaneous solo concert; a child happily and loudly living in the moment.

Then there is the shivering,gut pain sound of the deepest grief that reflects the image depicted in Edvard Munch’s painting, “The Scream”. It is a sound revealing a vocal primal scream. I want to highlight three:

Primal Anger Scream

It is as if the entire world is screaming. We’ve all witnessed the “terrible two” temper tantrum when the toddler cannot control events. It is the child’s primal anger scream. Adult temper tantrums are just as real and intense. It is important to remember that feelings of anger a natural part of the human DNA. As one of the grief elements, its purpose is to lead a person to wholeness. I refer to the stages of grief as “elements”of grief because of the misleading idea that we pass through those temporary “stages”never having to encounter them again. The reality is that grief is more often cyclical than linear. It is not uncommon for anger to be mixed in with other feelings and emotions throughout the grieving process that can last for years. Anger is the warning light on the human dashboard, alerting the brain and dispensing adrenaline through the body, which can cloud thinking and lead to confrontation.The most effective way to disarm anger is to recognize and own it. Releasing anger in isolation with a primal scream is preferable to screaming at someone else.

Primal Pain Scream

I vividly remember getting that dreaded pastoral call on a warm September Saturday night. The voice on the phone said that Doug, a member of my congregation, had been killed in a car accident. By the time I arrived at his home, an emotional crowd had gathered.When Doug’s twelve-year old son, Douggie was told the tragic news, he bolted and ran, until some neighbors found him and walked him home. I sat on the floor of the half bath with my arm around his shaking, sweating body as he sobbed so hard, that he vomited. But it was the sound he made in between the sobs that haunted me; a primal scream of the deepest paint his kid had ever felt. This is the front end of grief, expressing an emotional hurt so devastating that the best we can do is to cry out with painful sounds. Instead of words to express his devastation, Douggie released an unrecognizable moan that morphed into a high-pitched wailing. I said nothing. I just held him, unable to hold back my tears. His wailing finally gave way to a limp, exhausted body.

Primal Condemnation Scream

Anger and pain, when managed in their context, are indicators of the need for care and healing. But,condemnation is an altogether different animal.

The primal condemnation scream reveals the ugly truth that we have defaulted to the ugliness of our self-absorbed predisposition. Condemnation is fueled by an overdose of self, jettisoned by anger, fear and insecurity. The condemnation scream often reveals a pent-up resentment. It is as if the bullet has been sitting in the emotional chamber for quite some time.Condemnation is the self-destructive disorder of our world held captive by a collective scream that drowns out constructive dialogue, destroys thoughtful expression and fatally wounds human dignity. It is the mob psychology weapon of choice becoming more lethal with each accusation. It is the head-throbbing noise that divides communities and families. And those in the funeral profession can find themselves in the middle of an out of control primal condemnation “rager”.

Here’s the point: The ability to recognize those alarms going off in our heads before the sounds come out is important. It means that we understand and embrace our grief. Repressing grief is the worst thing we can do. Resisting healthy grieving can result in depression and physical illness. It can also result in damaged relationships.

Funeral Directors and pastors are there to hear the primal scream and help the-grief stricken walk through that dark tunnel toward the light.

Greg Webber

Director,Community Care/Aftercare, Certified Celebrant

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6500 Iron Bridge Rd.

N. Chesterfield, VA 23234

804-275-7828 (office)

804-873-0441 (cell)

greg@morrissett.com

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