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Surviving Mars and Surviving Loss Are Not So Different

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Let me just start off by saying that I am decidedly NOT a science-fiction fan. Klingons and Trekkies and books and films involving planets, wormholes and warp speed travel leave me longing for a book about here and now reality (and if I can't read psychology or memoir, I would prefer to read about California Tax Code or the taxonomy of larval states over Sci-Fi). You see, I find inner travel and the adventures of what happens inside of humans so fascinating that I don't need to leave the psychology section of the bookstore to find a whole planet of alienation, inner vortexes and learn about how men are from mars and women are from Venus, so to speak -- and this kind of alienation is real and never results in people going to Star Trek conventions dressed up like Darth Vader. That said, sometimes when I hear from a trusted source a book that has meant a lot to them, I am willing to leave the narrowness of my preferred reading material and venture into alien territory. Such an event recently occurred. A trusted source had recently read a book that had kept her up all night, and she was so excited about it she recommended it to me, with an emphatic and important caveat, "I don't like science fiction either." I could tell from her tone how much she loved the book and how this book was different than what she expected from the genre and so I decided to risk it and download the Kindle version.

Now here is the surprising part: I am loving The Martian by Andy Weir. The Martian is a story about an astronaut who is left for dead on Mars after a space storm requires his crewmates to abandon the mission and leave Mars. In the last several days I have eschewed a few demands on my to-do list to find out how he Robinson Crusoe of the red planet is surviving.

The more I read the more I find that Weir's ideas on how to survive on Mars are in alignment with some of my ideas on how to survive grief. Both Mars and grief states can feel like empty, lonely, barren wastelands that you feel like you might not survive. I found an article written by Weir on tips for surviving Mars. Weir's tips are in bold; my modifications for non-Mars grief survival come under the header.

1. You're going to need a pressure vessel.
While you don't need a space ship to survive grief, you do need safety, containment, and a holding environment to keep you safe as you are going through the grief process. True in space and true in grief.

2. You're going to need oxygen.
Well, this is true anywhere. But in my grief metaphor, it means that you need to be taking in life and letting it go and not stopping living just because it looks like all hope is lost.

3. You're going to need radiation shielding.
Mars is a planet rich in radiation and not hospitable to human life. When grieving your want to stay away from toxic types. You need to surround yourself with people you trust, and who will let you feel just as you do. This is not a time to surround yourself with people who need you to be up, happy and positive.

4. You're going to need water.
While it seems totally obvious that to survive you need water, it can seem less obvious that our emotions, our sadness and our tears are as fundamental to our survival. Allowing ourselves to cry and to openly grieve our losses is an important part of what helps us move through the grief. Tears are not something to repress, but rather allow us to feel the truth of how much we cared about what we lost.

5. You're going to need food.
Mark Witney knew that to survive Mars he was going to have to take what he had and make more of it (no grocery stores on Mars). While I am not suggesting you take up potato farming, like Mark did, I am suggesting that you have to take care of yourself while you are grieving. During grief very often the last thing we feel like doing is prepare a nutritious meal or go for a walk or take a yoga class. But nourishing and caring for ourselves is even more important during times of grief.

6. You're going to need energy.
While feeling what you feel is important, it is also important to allow yourself a break from your grief. It is impossible to just grieve all the time. Let yourself have a break, go to movies, have lunch with friends, go for a massage, read a book, meditate, or whatever it is that gives you energy. Grief is draining and you need to recharge your batteries to survive it.

7. You're going to need a reason to be there.
Mark found purpose in his time on Mars by doing experiments and collection samples to bring back to Earth. Making your own grief experience meaningful can be more difficult, however it is vitally important. Journaling, therapy, support groups can all be wonderful ways to use the time you are in grief to make it more meaningful and purposeful.