Grief – What Is It Good For? and Lessons From Two And a Half Men

grief Gary Carmell Roneet Carmell

First of all, I would like to thank everyone that has expressed their condolences, sadness, thoughts, and feelings about the loss of my beautiful wife Roneet. The outpouring of support and emotion has been extraordinary and so gratifying and, at the same time, quite understandable because of what a very unique and special person she was. When I was talking to my kids about what they would say when people ask them about their mother, I said that all you need share with them was that over 600 people attended her funeral and that would be enough to convey how loved she was.

I don’t want to fill up these blog posts going forward with my loss and grieving process. I have to work through a lot and I don’t want people to wallow in my sorrows or be immersed in what is a very personal process. So I will dedicate what I hope is one of the last blog posts to discuss where I’m at and how I’m seeing the world after her passing. I apologize in advance for the length of this post but it’s really intended to help me work through different thoughts and emotions. And if you happen to benefit from it as well, then all the better.

The title of this is a takeoff of the song “War” in which the singer asks what is it good for and he answers that it’s good for absolutely nothing. It made me ask the question as to whether grief falls into the same dismissive category. Stay tuned.

It seems to me that the purpose of all species is to survive, grow, and prosper over long periods of time. Our job is to perpetuate ourselves. And because human beings have free will and don’t operate on instinct alone, many of us come to learn that life can be very hard for many reasons. And being thinking, planning, obsessing types of species, we can make our lives harder or easier by our thoughts and attitudes and how we put those into action or do not put them into action. Thus, in my opinion, to keep our species perpetuating itself, people have to find reasons to go on and fight through pain, heartache, boredom, drudgery, disappointment, disabilities, loneliness, etc. To do this we have become meaning-seeking creatures and utilize psychological tools as survival techniques. We have to have the tools to reshape our view of the world to take the blows and find the strength and resilience to go on.

In many ways, life is a series of problems, challenges, and obstacles briefly interrupted by some experiences of joy and ease. While this may sound cynical, I think it’s a view of life that is grounded in reality. It also creates expectations that what we think are negatives will be constantly present in our lives and that facing them and overcoming them will enable us to grow and evolve into higher levels of consciousness such that we can lead more meaningful and fulfilling lives and be of service to others.

Said differently, and not to be crass, but one of my favorite quotes is

“No sh&*t, no roses.”

So what approach am I currently pursuing to cope, find meaning, and hopefully get back in the game of life? This is where I shift into my left brain mode and get out of my emotional fragility. I’m somewhat of a systems guy so it’s helpful for me to have a process that can help me approach challenges in a methodical manner. Of course, one has to allow for the curveballs in life and to be flexible and not to be so rigid, but in general, having a systematic approach has been a winning strategy for me.

Grief – G. R. I. E. F.

So how does it apply in the situation? Well, I thought it would be helpful for me to take the letters from the word “grief” and come up with some key attributes or ways of being that might help me through the process and will be good reminders for me when I start going into in some dark places that are not very healthy.

G – God and Gratitude.

I find it difficult to believe that people who don’t have a belief in some higher power can deal with tragedy and loss in a somewhat healthy manner over time. I think if you try to find meaning in difficult and tragic events then it allows one to take a bigger picture view, and potentially a more optimistic one, to help one process and ultimately accept what happened and to grow from it. I think that it is easier for people to find such meaning when they have a belief or connection to a higher power. The alternative is to subscribe to an absurdist view of the world which, according to Wikipedia, “focuses on the experiences of characters in situations where they cannot find any inherent purpose in life, most often represented by ultimately meaningless actions and events that call into question the certainty of existential concepts such as truth or value.”

I must admit that given everything that happened I do find myself wavering back and forth between the two extreme points of view. But then I take a step back and realize that, as I said earlier, human beings are meaning-making machines and we use psychological tools to protect ourselves, I find that too many things have materialized in positive ways in the aftermath of what happened to Roneet for me to fully subscribe to the absurdist point of view. I would say right now I’m 80% meaning and 20% absurdist. Of course, my way is just that, and every person is different and will process their issues in ways that hopefully best suit them but may also be the only way they know how to process them. In other words, we may fall back on our habitual ways of coping with pain, loss, and stress, versus using the experience as a way to break through into a way of being that better serves us. It’s all very individual and complex.

In addition to God, I think gratitude is also critical in helping me process this. The life we had was extraordinary and I have to remind myself to be grateful for what we had and not mourn what will never be because, as her passing proved, life can be very fleeting.  And, most importantly, I’m grateful for the two amazing children we had together and the extraordinarily positive influence she had on them.

R – Remember.

I think it’s absolutely critical for me to remember the totality of life that we experienced together. And while this mostly means fondly recalling the great times, it also means not glossing over those not so great times as they can help me remember that all relationships have peaks and valleys and I can learn from them about how to be a better person. Fortunately, she was such a blessing in my life and had the wonderful ability to make me laugh and smile that I’m sure the wonderful memories will be top of mind as the years unfold. My life with her helped shape me as a person and, fortunately, I have an incredible number of pictures, videos, stories, notes, and all of my blog posts to enhance my memory of her. I think subconsciously that was one of the reasons why I wanted to write a blog that was personal in nature because it would memorialize some of the highlights of our life together and I would have the opportunity to be able to go back in time and review our life. Of course, I didn’t begin to blog with the expectation that this would happen so soon, but now that it has, I’m just grateful that I have developed a writing habit that can serve to help me remember and help me through these difficult times.

So all we have is our memories of the past and how we are experiencing life in the present. In addition, powerful memories can obviously inform the present and the direction we may take in the future. We are a series of nows, some of which are peak experiences comprised of continued renewed immediacy, while many others are influenced by previous nows and future nows that we dream about or fret over. I am fortunate that I have such beautiful and powerful memories that helped shape who I am, can help keep me grounded in the present, and guide me in the future to help me become a better person and make better decisions.

I – Insecurity.

Even before this happened I believed that we have to accept uncertainty because everything is always in a state of flux, whether it be growth or decay, and there are too many variables to model to feel any kind of high degree of certainty about how life may unfold. This doesn’t stop us from having to make our bets but we need to make key decisions with the recognition that we could be wrong and if we are, we need to make sure we avoid ruin. The one thing I was planning on, however, was that I thought that Roneet and I would have this beautiful long life together in which we would grow old and take care of each other. Believing this, and expecting it, meant a lot to me, as well as Roneet, and now that I don’t have that, it’s very sad for me confronting this and it creates a lot of insecurity and so many unknowns. My center of gravity has shifted and now I’m wobbling. It reminds me of James Taylor when he sings in Fire and Rain:

Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground

Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain.

I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end

I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend

But I always thought I would see you again

I can’t deny that this is my reality, my new normal, our new normal, and it’s best not to fight that insecurity but embrace it. I don’t know what the future is going to hold for me, and I’ll keep gathering clues as I go through life and who knows where they will lead. In the past, those clues were picked up by me within the context of the partnership I had with Roneet and where they could take us together, but that is no longer the case. So I have to really be present to this insecurity, not judge it, and accept that it’s real and ever-present.

E – Emote.

Emote means to let my feelings flow through me, don’t try to suppress them, and don’t judge them. They just are. People ask how am I doing and if I’m ok. I never really thought too much about those questions before but now I have considered them more deeply and I am concluding that anything that I’m feeling is okay as long as it doesn’t lead to any kind of harmful outcome. It’s important that I find ways to release my feelings in healthy ways and recognize that they are fleeting and are not the essence of me. Clouds pass through the sky but the sky is still the sky in its essence.  

I was never one to cry before this, especially in public, but after the experience in the hospital and the funeral, I have let go of that fear or concern about embarrassing myself. With that being said, I don’t think doing so in a business setting that has nothing to do with what happened is appropriate. It makes people uncomfortable and detracts from the larger purpose. The attention should not be placed on me and what I’m contending with until it is appropriate that it is the case. In private settings, while talking with others, or being by myself while reading a card expressing beautiful and touching sentiments, or just being triggered by something that reminds me of the loss, then that is a different story. Being brought to tears is cathartic, healthy, and is part of the totality of what it means to be human and to have had the great fortune to love deeply. I also have to be okay with being okay and feeling good at times and not judging myself for it because I think she would want life for me to move forward and not have me be trapped in despair and anguish.

As an aside, it’s been very healthy for me to exercise and bike ride. Riding is a hobby that I picked up before this happened and I’m really thankful that I did because it has kept me somewhat sane, or less insane than would otherwise be the case. As Roneet used to say, if you’re going to get sick, you want to be healthy when you do so in order to improve the odds of recovering. For me having these habits of self-care and writing regularly are muscles that have been exercised for a while and have been extremely helpful. I can’t imagine starting to take them up in the state of mind that I have been in and currently am in.

F – Faith and Fluidity.  

Faith that things will work out okay. I don’t know how life will unfold but if I’m present for the good and the bad, focus on doing the next right thing, and constantly strive to grow and evolve, then I believe things will work out over time in ways that will bring more satisfaction and well being to me. And hopefully that will spread to others, but I have no control over others of course. This is not to say that I won’t feel more pain and heartbreak on this road to recovery but somehow, someway things will work out.

Fluidity is the recognition that everything is in a constant state of regressing or becoming and I have to accept that what I feel and think will always be fluid and that it’s best not to make any absolute declarations about what I will and won’t do in the future. It’s somewhat tied to the feeling of insecurity but is probably a more positive approach to framing change. Who I am now may be very different than the person I am 20 minutes from now.

As Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”Click To Tweet

The loss of Roneet was immense and unfathomable. The hole in my life is something that will never be filled in the same way by anyone else because it can’t be. We floated together in our particular time and space that has come and gone and left behind a wake of extraordinary memories, experiences, children, and fruits of our labor. It’s not a good analogy but while Ashton Kutcher did an admirable job replacing Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men (a show we both loved to watch), it was just not the same and never could be. It was just different and the creators knew that it had to be so because no one could replace Charlie and the dynamic his presence brought about. With Roneet I have the great fortune of going back and reviewing many of the reruns of the great shows we created together. These will live forever in my kids and I. And while some of the shows we created may have been difficult to produce some of the time, most were so wonderful and joyful and now we have left behind a body of work that will live on forever in many different ways. Two and a Half Men’s combination of great writing and acting along with the significant volume of shows created has led to it being available almost any time of day on multiple networks, and this should be the case for years to come. This is how I feel about the life Roneet and I created together. The reminders of it will always be present, albeit in a different form, but we created something special that will keep providing me gifts for the rest of my life.

So what is grief good for? It’s good for showing you how that it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. It means you were playing this game of life to win, rather than not to lose. It tells you that you are alive and being alive means feeling incredible pain and loss at some points and elation at joys during other times. It opens up all of your senses such that you are in a heightened state of awareness. You feel so much more, you want depth, meaning, love, and to be there for others when they need your care, guidance, wisdom, and experience. In short, grief can ultimately be an incredible gift.


9 comments on “Grief – What Is It Good For? and Lessons From Two And a Half Men
  1. Yigal Barak says:

    I am amazed and overwhelmed by the complexity of the ways you deal and work out with the grief and the mourning on the passing of Roneet . I believe that your unique systematic approach is extremely helpful in giving meaningful solutions to to painful feelings and thoughts. As you’d point out , everyone has its own way of dealing with such a grief. I know that the wonderful life you had with Roneet ,together with your special way of dealing with the painful feelings, will make the grief more bearable.

  2. Val Ruhlen says:

    Gar What an amazing writer. By the way we Love two n a half men. The hole you mentioned is in each person she touched. I’m so fortunate my entire Family to have known her and Love her and each one of you. I’ve learned how beautiful each person is in so many ways. It’s not about the material things it’s about being there for one another . That is who she was always there to listen, help laugh you through the minutia I used to think was so important. I will never ever forget her each day she’s with me in some way. I will cherish her forever. We will be here to Love you all up and create Memories with one another. She will always be one of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever known. We love you all.

  3. Annette Dresser says:

    So beautifully written Gary. I have thought about you , your kids and of course Roneet every day since I heard about her choking. It’s so hard to understand how this could ever happen to such a beautiful person. It is a huge reminder of the fragility if life. I wish I had seen her more. Every single time we were together it was so wonderful.
    She made everyone around her feel so special, and wanted to celebrate the day and life. I was with another good friend of hers in La recently and we had champagne in her honor at lunch. Thank you for sharing so much, I truly think it is helpful. I will be thinkng of your family in a special way this week, there will be so many firsts. I know Roneet loved and valued family gatherings more than anything else. I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself and have your beautiful kids and extended family.
    Love & support to all of you
    Annettec

  4. Jacqueline Wittmeyer says:

    Gary, dear Gary, I have you, Roneet and your children in my thoughts and prayers everyday and many times every day. I am so grieving for you and so far it has just been painful and difficult. After reading your blog on grief I feel I can say that to you now because you shared your feelings in a real way. Thank God for God! And for His grace and mercy and His deep and rich love. How many times I have wondered how anyone can make it thru this life experience without faith, without God. Right? So that is how I am doing this grief about your loss of Roneet. I pray and I pray more. And I lean on the knowledge of faith, and I trust. While I really don’t understand the why of it all, I will remain grateful that I know God, that you do too, and together we will trust as we move forward. I’m here for you always. Love you lots! May peace, be with you and may you sleep well. God bless you Gary, I know God has you in His hands. XO

  5. Randi Bernstein says:

    Beautifully written. Your writing will not only guide you through this very hard time in your life, but will guide others as well. I hope you share more of your writing.

  6. Annie Long says:

    I am grieving losses in my own life and your Insights and how you expressed them hit home.

    I do know grief never really dies, the holes left when loved ones never go awa, we always miss them but the level of pain does change.

    I am so sorry for your loss but thank you very much for sharing your thoughts.

  7. CarolAnne says:

    Wow, what a beautiful piece you wrote

    My sister suggested I read this because I’ve been i such a dark place with grieving and I feel so alone on so many levels

    Reading this gave me some hope, so thank you for that🙏🏻

  8. Rosie Rundle says:

    Wow! This is so well written! I lost my beautiful husband two years ago and this piece helped me tremendously. I can relate to all that is said. I don’t want to be a burden by being so mournful and sad; I still cry every single day. Grief is a process and my family doesn’t need to lose me as well as their father/grandfather. God, Faith, and Memories – that will keep us going and growing. Thank you so much for this perspective!

  9. Gregory Parks says:

    Gary, my prayers to you and your family to work through this grief process together, and individually. A great Psychologist in the mid 1950s offered a suggestion that confounded his colleagues, as they thought it too trite, but it wasn’t, it was profound. What he said was “….You become what you think about…” He taught and wrote for years and put it in more detail. Basically, the human brain spends 95% of it’s time and energy managing body functions subconsciously, and only about 5% actually thinking (what most people think their brain does.) The challenge is to train the mind to focus on the positive things that have been done, that you have done, or want to be done, etc.

    If you can train your mind to just shift 1% of the brain’s power to focus on things you want to do, the body maintenance function is only decreased from 95% to 94%, yet your creative thinking mind has increased from 5% to 6%. That’s a 20% increase! Recent scientific journals I’ve read discussed the fact that we actually know what causes cancer, and all other diseases.

    It’s only been written about in the past 10 years or so. Before that it would have been considered lunacy. But what we can’t do is take very preliminary research on a new found prospective cure, and tell everyone the problems are gone!. That’s because something as profound as a cure for cancer, and other diseases cannot be extrapolated from a few hundred test samples, in a world of 7.5 Billion people. We need decades of testing and research on hundreds of thousands of people before releasing a hoped-or cure, artificially elevating the hopes of people before we know why it works and what the side effects are? (which all medications have).

    What if we move pell-mell into productizing a treatment, and stop running further research, laying off tens of thousands of highly skilled people, only to find out the premise was wrong, or there were far more serious side effects than we thought? Except for terminally ill patients, we need to control the process of review. For those who are terminally ill, establish guidelines that clearly define what is being done for the terminally ill patient. This poses very serious questions with scientific, ethical, moral and religious questions that must be very carefully studied before announcing anything as profoundly important as this.

    I remember vividly years ago talking with you about your son Zack’s brain tumor when he was about 2. You were frantic, and I encouraged you to train yourself to be hopeful, but realize it’s out of your hands and in those of medical professionals. And maintain a faith in God that you have done everything you could, and don’t eat yourself up with worry or you could destroy yourself or others you love. Have faith.

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