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Saying "Yes/And" As You Grieve

Most actors know of an improvisation game called "Yes/And." Here's the basic idea: When someone starts an improv scene with a statement, the other person can best continue the scene by affirming what was said (the "yes") and then adding on to it (the "and"). Here's an example:

First person: Okay we have a gallon of gas left and I have no idea where we are.

Second person: This car gets 20 miles to the gallon. Who can we make friends with in the next 20 miles?

(The scene unfolds from here as the actors continue the dialogue...)

What happens when the second person says "no" to the first instead? Well...

First person: Okay we have a gallon of gas left and I have no idea where we are.

Second person: What do you mean? We're in a cruise ship on our way to Jamaica!

As you can see, the second person has denied the reality of the first, creating confusion and disconnect for both people and for anyone else watching. If they continue by arguing over who is right, they will probably drain the life out of the scene.

Getting ready for a 1980s Thanksgiving. Ever grateful for my family.

Recently, I've noticed people writing about "yes/and" as a powerful tool for business and life, one that builds creativity and increases collaboration (as detailed in this book by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton). As I considered this, it occurred to me that it can serve us as we grieve.

Grieving is complex. It's illogical. It's nonlinear. One person's grieving process doesn't mimic another's. A single person might experience grief in completely different ways for different losses. However, the human desire to understand and simplify creates ideas, and ideals, about how grief should proceed. When something we feel doesn't match what others -- or ourselves -- think it should, we often say NO to ourselves. NO, I should not be so devastated. Or NO, I should not be laughing and having fun right now. Or maybe NO, I should not still have a closet full of this person's clothing after ten years...or should not have taken a trip by myself over the holidays...and on and on.

What if we can play both roles in the scene for ourselves, saying "yes/and" to whatever is happening? You can start by saying "YES" to yourself for whatever you're feeling, validating that feeling no matter what it is. As YES acknowledges the truth of your emotion, it can open the door to possibility. That's where "AND" comes in. With AND you can welcome whatever helps you move through the feeling. Maybe AND can start a question like, "And what's good right now?" or "And what can I do to make something of this moment?" Perhaps it can simply lead you to a kind thought such as, "AND I'm going to make it through the way or another."

Wishing you any possible measure of peace this holiday season. Maybe a little "Yes/And" can help my wish for you come true.


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