The World Goes on But You’re Still Grieving
5.1 PEOPLE DON’T
One of the worst
aspects of grief is it can feel like nobody knows what you’re talking about.
This can make you feel emotionally alienated, and therefore reluctant to share
your feelings with others.
Since losing my mom
and dad, I’ve tried to share with family my feelings of alienation, but I
suspect they’re convinced I’m something of an
alien; as if the emotional frequency I am tuned into is like dog ears—one they
cannot hear at all.
Hey, I’m now alone in
the universe. “Oh okay,” they reply, “want to get a hot dog?”
Or silence. They’ll
just ignore the subject. It’s flabbergasting! Especially when it’s an
anniversary of loss, and the person is aware of this, it hangs in the air real
thick and gloomy; they treat it as no more important to discuss than the
weather, something far in the distance, passing us by. The longer the absence
of their acknowledgment of the loss, the gloomier and thicker the air becomes,
until it’s suffocating to not say something. It’s up to me to
bring it up! As if it wouldn’t exist otherwise! I’m sorry to have made them feel
I understand that no
one wants to talk about death. In the first place it’s depressing, and its
finality is just plain hard for a human mind to comprehend. It’s baffling,
overwhelming, heartbreaking, traumatizing, debilitating, anxiety-inducing, and
this list goes on.
But the irony is
laughable! Everybody on the planet dies, so presumably, many people have lost
someone close already, and you would therefore think many could relate. The
truth is somewhere in between; a lot of people still have not lost a parent, or
child, or brother or spouse, someone integral to their life, and this often
renders them incapable of meaningfully empathizing, or even sympathizing, with
your experience. Likewise, certain people are simply incapable of dealing with
the discomfort of the subject. In the end, there’s effectively not too much
difference between the two, and so it just becomes too exhausting to examine
the reasons why any particular individual doesn’t feel really “there for you.”
Nevertheless, as I
grapple with the enormity of loss, I still do bristle at those who express
scant empathy. I visited with a close relative, (whom I still love in spite of
the following) shortly after my mom’s passing. I felt fragile and vulnerable,
yet eager to commiserate with someone who knew my mother well. It felt like an
opportunity to help with my healing process, and of course, listen to anything
grief related my relative might have to share. When I arrived, to my shock,
over the course of an entire day, he didn’t ask a single question, or say a
single word regarding my mom’s passing.
We were outside his
apartment later in the day already, and he looked at me with a certain
intention. I figured this would finally be the opening salvo into the subject.
“Hey Erik, wanna
smoke some weed?”
“No man, I’m good.”
“How about a little
“Okay.” We plugged in
the video game. My head swam with confusion. When is he going to say something?
Then he suggested we go out for a burger. I thought I’d give him a head start.
“So how’re things with
you?” I said.
“Pretty good, but
tough sometimes, y’know.”
Okay, here comes the
first mention of my mom’s passing.
“This place is a lot
of fun on the weekend. . .”
OMG!!! At this point I paid little attention to
whatever he talked about, none of which had anything at all to do with my
mother. We hung out all day without so much as one solitary word on the matter.
That my mom had just died. Not one question about it, not one question about
how I was holding up. Nothing. We parted ways afterward, and as I drove off,
the chance of any talk of it now gone, I was pissed.
I guess he was. . .
unsure, uncomfortable, weirded out about how I’d react—
thought: So. . . I guess I might as well say nothing. Yeah,
‘cuz if A, B & C options all mean saying something, and I’m not sure which
one is right, then, uh, yeah, let’s go with D—say nothing. Can’t go wrong then.
Besides, Erik’s here to get away, escape, have a little fun—what kind of dick
would I be if I reminded him that his mom just died?
I promise you I
haven’t forgotten that my mom has died! I also love when people say this sort
of thing, like—I didn’t want to bring it up, I mean maybe you wouldn’t want
to talk about it, and I’d be rude to put you on the spot like that, it’d be
thoughtless and disrespectful of me to cause you pain like that.
Here’s a message to
all humans who have said something like the above to someone in grief—THE
PAIN IS NOT FROM YOU BRINGING IT UP. IT’S FROM THE FACT THAT MY LOVED ONE HAS
I say this
emphatically, but with less anger and bitterness as my process of recovery
deepens. In other words, it’s important to convert one’s frustration into an
understanding that is cathartic. The message here is these feelings of dissatisfaction
are perfectly acceptable and normal, though that doesn’t mean you have to hold
them close to your heart. You can observe the reactions of people, as well as
your own feelings, accept them and let go.
There are friends who
have gone so far as to have questioned what was wrong with me. Why
am I not the same person? How I disappointed them. And from one
point of view, who can blame them? They’re not the ones suddenly crying at a
bar during a night out. It’s ME. That kind of behavior doesn’t
scream fun to be with. I’d go out with friends and they’d be upbeat, living
their normal lives, and I’d just kind of stare at them for long silences. After
a while of that, I didn’t have to worry about turning down too many invites.
I didn’t mean to be
dead weight. It’s just that whether or not your friend should switch to Dial
soap to better moisturize their skin rash didn’t hold quite the same sway over
my attention. All these mundane parts of life that everyone is so caught up
with. How serious can I take any of it?
It’s even harder when
some friends and family continue to wonder why I haven’t “moved on.” It’s
been so many years already, how come you still seem so burdened? How come
you’re still not back to “normal”? I’d love to send a message to
people everywhere who have made any bereaved person feel this way: MY FAMILY IS
STILL GONE. As in, not coming back to life. How could I not continue to be
deeply impacted by this irreversible fact? I am doing the best I can.
These frustrations are
commonly felt by those of us who have lost a loved one. I hope other sufferers
have the good fortune to benefit from support that is healthy, responsive and
supportive. It is also certainly possible to make new connections and to
develop friendships that can be quite nurturing. Unfortunately, if you’re
bereft of such help, a certain sense of estrangement can arise.
There are mourners who
may momentarily have an attitude of well one day you’ll understand, but
I’m confident no one actually wishes grief on anyone. But the
truth is, wished or not, everyone will be next in line at some point. The time
will come when everyone will lose a loved one and be overwhelmed with
grief. I think it’s an instructive question to pose: What kind of
support would you hope for?