Whose Grief is It Anyway?

I wrote this post about 8 months after Michael died. My thoughts haven’t changed. I know a number of people in the grief process. I thought I’d share my feelings again in the hope that someone might find them helpful.

BC5F3DFA-3390-4E52-B946-77B024FFD2DCI am a really lucky person. I lived with someone who never asked me to be anyone but myself. The joy of reaching the space of true authenticity is hard to describe. Being able to always be yourself has a lightness to it. A sense of freedom. Arriving in that spot which enables you to say what you think, feel what you feel and be who you are, regardless of circumstance, is my idea of having truly self-actualized. I’ve treasured the luxury of being genuine.FF27030A-5C1C-4D57-8536-D33F0D609AC5

That authenticity has been challenged in the eight plus months I’ve lived since Michael died. The me that I am has created many odd moments as I work through my emotions. I’ve had some tough issues with people regarding the way they’ve handled my expression of grief.

Mostly, they don’t know that. Our culture does a wretched job with death and grief. There are lots of books out there which describe the steps everyone must take to handle what is the inevitable for all of us. There are timetables. The first and most popular one seems to be that you’re not supposed to do anything for a year after an important death. Otherwise you might regret your actions. But at one year, you have permission to act. Where’s the magic button for that change, I wonder? Can’t find it on my phone or computer.

Then there are the platitudes. “He’s in a better place.” “I’m sorry for your loss.” “It’s still too soon, but in time, you”ll believe you’re ready for a new companion.” Really??? Where’s the better place? I’d like to pay a visit. I haven’t lost Michael-I know I didn’t leave him at the mall. Why on earth would you think I want a new companion? I have a dog.

Let’s not forget the people who make you feel like a leper. They run the other way and say nothing. Your presence reminds them of the fragility of life. The ones who ignore you because they don’t know what to say. Saying I don’t know what to say isn’t on their radar. 

When I speak to people, I have often felt a recoiling.  If my words don’t match the common perceptions of what this pain is, people pull back. At a time when you feel most isolated, there’s a sense that if your truth makes someone uncomfortable, you should be quiet or agree with a thought you truly don’t believe. So you feel more alone than ever. And irritated that you’re the one who needs to fill someone else’s emotional gaps.

So here are a few ideas. The first is to try to simply listen. If you aren’t asked for an opinion or suggestion, don’t give one. We are all so different. What you hope might sound healing may have the opposite effect. Quell your internal noise and hear. Often, all that is required is a simple I’m sorry. Or perhaps a friendly pat or a briefly held hand. A hug. No one can change the course of another person’s journey. Don’t try to assist unless you’re asked for assistance. If what you hear sounds disturbing, unsettled or wrong to you, just let it be. Most importantly, don’t argue or try to convince a grieving person that you have The Answer. You don’t. Except what you decide for yourself. And don’t be afraid to feel helpless.  Everyone feels somewhat helpless in the face of another’s pain. But you can still bring a little warmth and solace into the impossible. Small moments count. Being marginalized or unheard hurts.

I’m happy to be able to purge myself of these thoughts. I hope you find them useful as you move through your own unexpected circumstances. I want to be helpful as well. Thanks for the listening.

Quote of the day: Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what’s right. Isaac Asimov

On this day in history: January 2, 1788 – Georgia becomes the 4th state to ratify the United States Constitution.

4 thoughts on “Whose Grief is It Anyway?”

  1. Nicely said Renee.
    I suggest reading Sheryl Sandberg’s second book called Option B. She talks about what you are saying. You would appreciate it.
    Hugs to you.

    1. I did read it. She had a dreadful loss. Mine had more time for sharing love and memories. Her advantage was being younger and actively involved in work. The vast space when parents and spouses are gone and kids are grown and you’ve retired is daunting. No structure. Rebuilding in your mid-60’s is challenging.

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