As a verb, grit refers to clenching your teeth to stay resolved when facing an unpleasant or painful situation. As a noun, it has come to refer to courage, mettle, determination and tenacity. Some people are able to maintain such hardiness throughout a difficult passage. The U.S. Marines teach recruits to compartmentalize their fears and take action. People who are able to stay calm and carry on are able to put aside their fear and sorrow and take care of business.
Grit and Grace by Ken Wilber is a moving account of a woman who resolved to live life to its fullest despite increasing dependency and pain. The Doer smiles and forges ahead. Caretakers often adopt this pattern, especially if the person they’re caring suffers over many months or years. Keeping their own feelings in check, they execute the daily tasks of feeding, clothing, washing, and nursing a dying person with grace, despite the toll it may take on their own health and well-being.
As a dying person, Doers have filed advanced directives with their families, doctors, and hospital. They discuss with those close to them how they want to die with those close to them, how they want their body handled afterward, and what they want as a funeral or memorial service. They decide whether and when they want hospice services or emergency services. They understand the financial aspects of their decisions and make sure that their wills are up to date.
As a caretaker, the Doer coordinates visits to doctors and treatments, often providing transportation or making sure that someone else can do it. They learn how to give medication, organize supplies, and create a good space at home or in a hospice or nursing facility. They advocate for the dying person with professional care providers. The Doer focuses on what must be done, what can be done, and how best to do it. The Doer searches the web for information, analysis the facts, weighs the options and charts a course of action. Men are often most comfortable in this mode, but many women also display this pattern. If you feel stuck in this style, you may appear steely and uncaring. You may worry that you are not feeling enough pain and wonder what it means; others may experience you as strong but disconnected.
Are the Doer’s compartmentalization of feeling and suppression of fear any better or worse than other reactions to dying? The research isn’t clear. One common theory is that an inability to express sorrow and fear may lead to a less than optimal experience of dying, for those who survive, delaying or protracting their grief. There is little direct evidence for this idea, but people who rely on this style may find that others push them to “let it all out,” or to “slow down.” For the Doer type, it may make sense to schedule some time for reflection either through journaling or by talking about the meaning of the experience with a friend. For people of this style, reminiscence can be the best way to more emotional ground. A concrete commitment to some form of ritual, planting a garden, saying mass, meditating, things one can accomplish in a given amount of time, can open a gateway to deeper experience. There are a thousand way to express grief. Find one that works for you.
If you think in terms of Kübler-Ross’s stages, the Doer is the negotiator, making deal after deal to delay death, or at least to make it bearable. As a dying person, the Doer may opt to cut it short, considering assisted dying or making a conscious decision to stop eating or drinking. It can be hard on family and friends when a dying person deliberately embraces death. Research and discussion of physician assisted dying is in its infancy, but advocates believe that medical-aid-in-dying is an important option for those who are in great pain and wish to die with dignity.