Grief Loss and Bereavement


But what else is new under the sun?

Dirty feet

Image by Yannig Van de Wouwer via Flickr

A blogger I follow posted about how since the dawn of the blogosphere the dilemma we life bloggers face when the issue that brought us to the keyboard isn’t really the reason we stay on the web anymore. He began as a widowed blogger following the death of his husband, and his story was compelling. Single dad finds love, marries and in short order is widowed when his new husband is stricken with cancer.

It helped that he is keen and articulate and not prone to the navel gazing rut so many life bloggers – myself at times included – can fall into. His observations were insightful and he is a good writer.

After a time, he was picked up by Widow’s Voice and became a contributor there, but after a time, he began to do what all widowed people do even if they don’t realize it: he moved on. He still called what he was doing grieving but it’s a common mistake. The grief industry is built on faulty information that is part pseudo-science and mostly anecdotal, and it is fed by a culture that labels any normal event or action a dysfunction in need of 12 stepping.

We grieve in the beginning but the moving on process is not grief  unless you count the grieving we do for the people we used to be and can’t be anymore, which is apples to oranges. Moving on is work and it’s emotionally draining at times to be sure, but it’s not grieving. I don’t know if it has a name really. But during this time, we note our losses keenly when we are faced with the effort involved with the whole rebuilding of our lives. We miss and maybe long and certainly feel sad. All valid enough emotions on their own that they don’t need to be lumped under “grief”.

So this blogger is moving on. New city, job, home and new love. Enough “new” to send even a non-widowed person into a spin, but being widowed, he has grief to file it all under even when that’s not it. However, the issue is his blogging. Being a life blogger, he naturally shares his now, which is not really the raw, visceral stuff of active grief and his freshly widowed readers noticed.

He noted their notice and wondered if it was time to retire. It’s a natural reaction. The newly widowed are not fooled by those of us farther out. They know we aren’t really “feeling it” the way they do. It’s not posing really, but it’s disingenuous to claim one is a widow when one is moving into the territory of becoming “someone who was widowed once”. It’s noun versus verb territory, and most of us get there in the second or third year.

The trouble is that we are not supposed to admit it. Doing so is to relinquish membership in the “club no one wants to belong to”, and when you’ve found camaraderie there, it’s hard to walk away from it despite the fact that you really do need more in common than dead spouses to be friends or more. It’s no different from any other bonding event that brings people together. Marriage, motherhood, employment. At some point that one thing just isn’t enough.

But, my point. You are probably wondering and at 553 words perhaps I should get to it.

I commented on his post. Someone replied to me but yet at me. “I don’t want to cause controversy” which means, yeah I do but I don’t want to own it if actually happens. And the short was that I am wrong and callously so and probably a dgi to boot. Oh, and I am “rigid” and bossy.

When I first found widow boards and blogs the thing that struck me with the most horror were those who clung to the label and the false idea that grief is a quasi-mental health issue that is more or less chronic. You would always grieve in their opinion. It was like low-level exposure to nuclear waste to read what they wrote. No way a newly widowed person could avoid buying in to one degree or another without risking the community shunning that goes along with objecting and pointing out that most widowed folk never see the need for offline grief grouping let alone online or blogging. Most bereaved people couldn’t be fingered in a line up at the year or that and a half mark. Sure, they feel sad and they miss, but as I said earlier – those are distinct feelings of their own.

Another blogger at Widow’s Voice wrote recently about being a “fraud” because she really doesn’t feel any of the things she is supposed to feel. Commenters were kind and supportive of her right to not grieve like a “normal person” but adamant that this is not they way most feel.

Which is funny.

The Internet is a small place and the blogosphere smaller still. It could be argued that those who populate it aren’t really representative of the larger population or even what is considered “normal”.

I left a comment assuring her that she was not a freak because I knew that not many others would. Surprisingly the comment made it through. The woman who moderates there is not generally open to widow views that don’t match her own or the faulty grieving model the site pushes.

And your point is? Right, I was going to get to that, wasn’t I?

Grieving and moving on are highly individual for the most part but the fact is that most people don’t spend their lives doing either. They tackle one and move to the next in a relatively expeditious manner. If human beings weren’t able to do this, we’d have perished as a species before we even got started. It’s wrong to tell people grief is something that it is not or to lead them into self-fulfilling prophecies by misrepresenting where you are really at in the process. Telling people there is no right or wrong and yet clearly saying the opposite with what you write or how you present the facts is not being helpful.

Most of the struggle I had in the last three or four months of that first year of widowhood are directly attributable to the bad examples and just plain wrong information I was provided by widowed people who were years ahead of me. Granted, a generous handful of these people were mildly dysfunctional to bat-shit crazy even before their spouse died and so perhaps I am judging them too harshly. But some of them were simply using the venues for purposes unknown though being helpful couldn’t be truthfully numbered among them.

Both the Widow’s Voice bloggers I mentioned seem genuine and I think their views and struggles in the moving on period are valuable. I wish them well and hope they blog on, remembering though that at some point it’s not grief anymore. Not really. Not the way the newbies live it, and there comes a point when you aren’t doing them any good wearing the widow mantle as though it were a tiara. It’s like the high school prom queen who never really got over graduation and growing up.


Day 150: And that's that.

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The Divorced and the Widowed normally agree to share a thin isthmus of common ground where the idea that each state marks a loss of a marriage is concerned, but while the Divorced believe the losses are slight variations on the same theme, Widowed adamantly object to what they see as a presumption.

Divorced feel that mourning the end of a marriage with its letting go of hopes, dreams and an intimate enduring relationship mirrors very closely the process that widowed must also go through.

“Except for that dead body in the room,” widowed counter.

And they are correct.

Let the howling protest of dissent begin.

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Cards

Image by jeff_golden via Flickr

And you know what I am talking about widowed people. That handy-dandy “get me out of anything” excuse that your late spouse bequeathed you by merely dying young. It’s a temptation that is almost too much for any widowed person to resist, using the aftermath of their spouse’s death to guilt people into … anything really. The widow card has few equals, and even fewer betters, when it comes to manipulating others.

Did I say that? Out loud?

Yes, I did. Pulling the widow card is a blatant form of emotional manipulation*. One that we all have used but is frankly always wrong. Sorry, to rain on you with reality, but no matter what the situation was – applying guilt liberally as a remedy isn’t going to earn you gold stars in any version of the afterlife. People who’ve been played by a widow know full well they are being strong-armed, and even when they go along with it out of misguided sympathy, it probably didn’t keep them from resenting you for it.

But what I really want to discuss are not the times you pulled the card to wiggle out from under a late fee on the Visa or sneak away from work a little early. I want to discuss the completely inexcusable practice of using widowhood to gain the upper hand in an intimate/dating relationship.

We’ve discussed (oh, okay, I’ve discussed at you) the concept of being ready to date again. When? Why? How? And I touched on the real need to be ready to engage with another person equally and honestly about where you are emotionally and what you are really looking for and expect. It does no one any good to go into a dating situation when you are still inclined to use your widowhood as a means to distance yourself emotionally or “hog the remote” where the pace and direction are concerned.

One of the biggest widow card offenses I’ve noticed in my travels here and there in the webosphere of widowed and those who date them is the “I need time”. Or space or a Tardis perhaps. Because intimacy with a new person after you’ve lost the old one to death can stir up some (or a lot) of conflicting emotions.

Know this – if you are really sure that the new person is “the one” and love them for them, conflicts become details to be tackled one at a time and without the need for space. Indeed, taking a “break” is very anti-relationship. You can’t work on a relationship with another person with just yourself. The other person’s input and presence is requirement. Relationships can’t grow if one of you is constantly heading out into the woods for a retreat or to commune with (and by commune, I mean wallow) in grief.

Men, and women, who pull the widow card version of “give me time” and tell you that they will “be in touch” are screwing with you.

And I can hear their screams even as I type this:

NO, we are not using the unfair advantage our grief gives us in the sympathy department to make sure that we have the most say in this relationship because our feelings are the more delicate … and important … and that we feel we should be the only voting members at the table.

But they are.

Society, grief culture and the ever-growing battalion of widowed aids via message boards, websites and organization (not to mention the support groups for people – mostly women – who date widowed – encourage widowed ( and their new partners) to look at their situation as a “condition” that needs to operate outside the standard boundaries of how “normal” people are expected to behave when dating.

If a divorced or single man says, “I need space.” Nine times out of ten he is dumping you. Disingenusously to be sure, but weaseling out nonetheless. Widowers are men. They know the manly ways out of relationships that are past their freshness dates or simply aren’t good fits. And though the nine out of ten may actually be eight out of ten for them, “I need space” that lasts for longer than a week is still “I’m not into you anymore”. Grief might be the excuse he is giving himself to make him feel better about having lead you on, but it’s still a widow card. And it is still manipulative of him to use his dead wife to avoid telling you that things are now “off”.

Widows also use the widow card to keep their dates in line. To train them to expect overbearing and callous behavior of their late wife’s family and friends or not be impatient about the non-parenting they are doing which has led to unmanageable and manipulative children (of all ages). Widowed who like being the only one in the driver’s seat will “card” their significant others into putting up with always being second or third on the VIP list, being okay with shrines to the late spouse, tolerating occasional, or regular, “grief retreats” that require radio silence that can last days or weeks or months. After which the widow card is good for  “get back into your graces as though I haven’t been a complete asshole” use.

I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it. Grief is no excuse. Despite its handiness and usefulness, it’s wrong to blackmail others emotionally, and the farther out a widowed person is from their spouse’s death – the less okay it becomes**.

Some people have a different take, but some people enjoy (thrive even) in drama and the stew of high school tinged drama. All you have to do is watch reality tv to know the truth of that.

So widowed folk, if you are ready to date – or are dating – it’s time to put away your stash of widow cards, man up and do your date or new SO the same favor you did for your late spouse – play fair. Be emotionally and physically available for participation in this relationship you are creating. It’s foundation will only be as strong as you choose to make it.

To those dating/intimately involved with a widowed guy or gal, hold them to the same standards you would if they didn’t have this tragedy in their past. Their feelings are not existing on some higher plane than your own. If they need time and you are inclined to wait on them, don’t be conned into something open-ended that leaves you hanging. Set some rules. Ask and expect for your feelings to be taken into account. Don’t be a doormat.

*And I did this. Used my widowness to weasel and manipulate. Especially in that first year and I did it because it works. I did not use it while dating – much – but beware that all widowed people know the power of a dead spouse. All.

** And I don’t want to hear about the total bullshit “latent grief” thing. It doesn’t exist. Some people will use old tragedy to avoid dealing with new hurts but that doesn’t give standing to the idea that grief can be buried and resurface like some zombie in B movie.


Prometheus, by Gustave Moreau, tortured on Mou...

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“Let’s trade in all our judging for appreciating. Let’s lay down our righteousness and just be together.”
Ram Dass

Does being opinionated count as “judging”?

Yeah, I kinda thought so too. Damn you, Ram Dass, for your timely appearance in my reader. And for being so “yoga” to boot.

Sometimes being yoga is very inconvenient

Apparently, though I have not bothered to ascertain the facts by actually trudging across the webosphere to take a peek, the Women Who Love Widowers site took issue with my perspective on … probably everything, knowing how that sort of thing goes – as you, dear long time readers, know that I do.

A commenter on another blog ever so kindly gave me the heads up on the “brutal blasting”  directed at those of us who, um, take a different stance on dating, remarriage and the bereaved. Never mind that once having been bereaved gives us a bit more of a leg up on the whole subject, or that by flaming out in a predictably postal way, it sort of proves my point that the GOW’s are no less mired in grief myth than their counterparts on the widow sites.

But whatever, it comes as no great surprise someone takes issue. With me. About widowhood – the blog, the movie, the book, the EXPERIENCE.  Grieving myths exist for a reason. That being that the myth is so much easier to accommodate than the reality, which requires honesty, introspection and work. Myth is sexy. And who can fight that?

Back in the day on ye olde widda board, I entered into the arena with some truly hardened battle-axes as I naively sought to point out that attitude counts, resiliency matters and that grieving is really just another life experience. It isn’t personal. It’s doesn’t make you stronger, and it doesn’t come with entitlements attached. You aren’t allowed to wallow or wail at others’ expense. It’s simply not okay. Grief should never be used as an excuse for anything. Call it whatever floats your semantic boat, but please don’t make it a life long affliction – because the research doesn’t back that up. It just doesn’t. Irritating, I know. Who couldn’t use a tragedy with lifetime pity powers? Sadly, the seemingly arbitrary year cut off that society clings to has actual basis in fact.

It’s not meant to be a career. Shit happens. You deal and move on. Most people do not come out on the other side of a life-altering experience with enough distance to be able to counsel others with any degree of objectivity or integrity. It doesn’t make them self-serving for wanting to try but when your scope is too narrow to admit other perspectives, or the possibility of being wrong, then the probability of misleading others instead of helping them is high.

And it’s not like I knew any of this going in. I learned it as I went along, so I can assure you that mistakes were made. That’s just part of the adjustment, but so long as attitudes adjust – and allow for others to adjust as well – it’s all good.

So people are angry with me because they feel judged, but I’m just saying is all. If believing that grief is a factor in a man’s not making you and your relationship a priority works for you then it works. I wonder though why one lonely opinion in the blogosphere can call up vitriol in someone who feels secure in what they know.

Over the last four plus years, I have been somewhat regularly ridiculed for my belief that grief is doable and eventually over, and my disinclination to buy into the somewhat female view that dating and remarriage is a difficult path fraught with woe. That’s not true from my perspective or my actual experience, and over time I have simply stuck to the reality of what I know and who I am. I am even friends – virtually – with many widowed who believe in Kubler-Ross and secretly think that one day I will dissolve into a puddle of latent or delayed grief due to my serious denial issues – which is nonsense. There is no evidence to support any of those ideas. But we agree to disagree and we share our perspectives and experiences in the various online venues – where I am thought to be, if not completely atheist then certainly a heretic – and we remain friendly.

Not all widowed are hysterical turf warriors or unhinged loonies.

That was a joke.

Seriously, lighten up.

Mea culpa, I believe but don’t know for sure because I ducked Latin in high school because the nun who taught it was very scary, means “my fault”. It’s “yoga” of me to take the hit for this. Very good for my karma. So I will.

But I stand behind what I wrote. I won’t be harangued (pretty anonymously really as no one seems to want to discuss it with me here, which doesn’t surprise me at bit really) out of what I believe or who I am.

I am happy. I have never been so happy as anyone who knows me for real can attest. I know who I am, as Rose would say, and I am not bothered*.

*That’s a joke too. Really. Sense of humourous perspective is a good thing to cultivate.


Inconsolable grief

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Just finished journalist Ruth Davis Konigsberg’s new book, The Truth About Grief: The Myth of the Five Stages and The New Science of Loss. At not quite 300 pages, and through mounds of boiled down research and stats, she reaches the completely unsurprising conclusion that the grief industry is at best mildly interfering for their own purposes and at worst scamming people.

Davis Konigsberg is one of those rare “grief” book authors who didn’t come to the genre from a place of self-interest. There are no tragic personal losses in her past driving her need to write the book. In fact, her only impetus seems to be a genuine interest in wanting to put the facts of what grief is and isn’t in front of a public that has been fed a steady diet of anecdotal misinformation since Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages were misapplied to grief.

One fact, and it was hardly a shock given who I know, struck me about why the whole notion of the five stages and grief work has always rankled me so much – it’s not based on any actual research.

None.

Kübler-Ross wrote up case studies of terminally ill people and proposed a theory about what the dying experience based on her observations. She published it. It was neat and concise and hit the public at one of those lightning strike times. It was then quickly appropriated by the fledgling grief counseling industry, which needed something on which to base its idea that family members needed support after the death of a loved one.

It wasn’t until George Bonnano began his actual research that anyone had bothered to look into whether or not grieving had stages at all or if people were helped by grief counseling.

As it turns out – there aren’t – only about 10 to 15% of people experience long-term difficulty after the death of a loved one that might require professional help. And by “professional” it is meant those with actual degrees in psychology. Not people who once lost someone*. That’s like supposing that having been sick makes one qualified to practice medicine.

Perhaps shockingly to some, but not to me, a lot of those in the grief counseling profession don’t have any real training. But it doesn’t stop them from pushing their services or the misguided notion that grief is work and without putting in the time, a person is doomed.

The idea of grief as work is a one off of Freud’s. But he saw the work of the grieving as being detachment from the deceased so that one could form a new attachment with someone else. He apparently felt, and there is some validity to it, that the cure for a broken heart was new love whether it be a new partner or another baby. It wasn’t about replacing the person, but giving the feelings a new outlet.

But grief as a chore was the bane of my widowed existence and it made no sense for me as my late husband had been physically separate from me for 15 months and mentally/emotionally lost to me since his diagnosis due to the dementia. His death freed me and all I got from the grief people was that now I was finally ready to get down to the work of feeling truly wretched.

Grieve now or get bitch slapped by the Grief Monster later.

That was one of  many rather unhelpful pieces of advice thrown at the newly widowed on the YWBB.

Fascinating to me was that the author actually attended the infamous Ft. Lauderdale MLK Weekend Widowbago that is now in its fifth or sixth year. She interviewed a gentlemen, who I remember well from my days on the board. An even-tempered – mostly – ex-military chap, who also organizes a camping trip for the widowed parents and their kids every June in Tennessee. Well meaning, as “veteran” of the board, he offered the same “do your griefwork”, “grieving is a process”, and “you’ll never really be over it” advice that dominates the grief counseling industry from church basements to hospice groups.

At one point Rob and I enrolled Dee in a children’s group via the Edmonton hospice program. While she was playing games and struggling with a program that was geared toward remembering a dad she was too young to recall, Rob and I were stuck with a volunteer grief counselor who goose-stepped us through the five stages.

Rob’s disgust vibrated through the room.  I, foolishly, tried to point out fallacies but was ill-received.

The only time I ever found “group grief” remotely real and accessible were the few times the counselor couldn’t attend and the parents were left to “talk amongst themselves”. As one of the longer widowed folk, I was asked a lot about what was normal and if they would ever “be okay”. And I did my best to reassure them that life got better and being okay was the norm.

I did this online too though I earned myself quite a reputation as a heretic and I am sure there are still faceless widowed out there waiting for the day that “grief will get me”.

Truth?

85 to 90% of all those who suffer the loss of a loved one will be fine within 6 months to a year after the loss with absolutely no outside help required. No one really knows why, but spontaneous relief from active grieving is how it works for the majority. Perhaps people are not the delicate hothouse flora the grief industry would prefer we think we are.

Yep, and that’s a proven fact with research to back it up though it is the pet peeve of nearly every widowed person I know.

“We’re not all better at the year anniversary!”

Except most of us are.

I remember the YWBB gent speculating that the members of the board fell into a small percentage of those without much real world support or those with “problems” that they undoubtedly had prior to their loss and which the loss made worse. The new science supports this theory of his but won’t be welcome news to those who need it most.

What’s more. There is no evidence to support the idea that grief counseling will help people return to normal faster than those people who have no guidance at all.

In fact, Bonnano found that people who are encouraged to replay the tragedy and their negative feelings are more likely to wind up with prolonged grieving than those who focused on the positive, good memories of the deceased and kept themselves involved in their lives.

And here’s something else that made perfect sense. In the Asian communities, grief is not discussed. They feel it is inappropriate to burden others with negative feelings, and it is in a way, disrespectful to the deceased. Stiff upper lip and moving on is emphasized though there are quiet rituals to remember the lost loved one that are practiced. And guess what, they do better in the long run than those who are encouraged to “lean into the pain”.

God, I hated that expression. Lean into the pain is the backbone of grief work and it probably couldn’t be less helpful.

The best thing one can do for the newly widowed? In my opinion, of course.

Tell him or her that he/she will be okay. To take things one day at a time. To find distractions if necessary. Focus on immediate tasks. Get enough sleep. Exercise.  Eat. Be around people.  Laugh. Smile a little. And stay away from anyone who encourages you to feel like a victim, which means avoid offers of grief groups, books and counseling as if they were plague.

The Truth About Grief is not really a “grief book”. It will rile up anyone who thinks they are doing good, setting up organizations, websites or planning conferences for the grieving because it will challenge them to think about what really motivates them, and why they are doing something that hasn’t been proven to work and can even harm those susceptible to complicated grief issues. It isn’t a “how to get over your dead (fill in the blank)” book, which so many grief books are.

It’s also not self-serving “year of magical thinking” tripe. Grief memoirs are plentiful and some are really good, compelling stories. But they aren’t blue-prints and should be taken as one person’s experience and not applied to what is true for most people in the same situation.

Davis Konigsberg’s work is a well-presented set of facts based on research and if you are a Kübler-Ross worshipper**, will give you something to chew on.

* p.122 the author asks sociologist Vanderlyn Pine to comment on the influx of grievers turned grief professionals – something he warned the industry about back in 1977. When asked how their experiences can influence the kind of help they provide he said, “The problem is that when people enter the field with a broken heart because someone close to them has died, they feel they have paid their penance and therefore already know all that there is to know.”

And unlike professional psychotherapists, these amateurs are not required to undergo counseling themselves so that they are aware of their prejudices. And yes, I am fully aware that I have a bias where amateur grief do-gooders and not so gooders are involved. It’s also why I stepped away quite a bit from blogs and sites devoted to this feel good industry. I can only speak from my own experience. I have no training aside from the little bit I received when I was teaching – where we were subjected to quite a bit of professional development of the counseling nature.

**My favorite Kübler-Ross quote from a 1981 interview on applying her stages to grief, “Any natural, normal human being will go from shock all the way through to acceptance. You could say the same about divorce, losing your job, a maid, a parakeet.”

That totally needs to be on a t-shirt.


Young widow, 1851

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Although I rarely “widow” blog anymore, this blog attracts a fair number of the grief-stricken, who comb through the dead spouse tagged posts or even go back to the deepest corners of my archive and read every single post I wrote in the first two years. And I read griefy stuff here and there myself, mostly people with whom I am acquainted to one degree or another.

There is a blog called Widow’s Voice that showed a bit of promise in terms of balancing the diversity of grief experiences and I would read, comment if I felt inspired, but over time, the site went “party line” as it evolved into a business/career for some of the people involved.

And by party line, I mean it promotes the idea that widowhood is a borderline mental health issue that can be managed over the course of one’s life though never cured. It supports the idea that widowhood is a persona rather than the fact that it is merely one of the less fun life events that a person experiences, deals with before moving on to a hopefully more fun life event.

Recently, one of the bloggers wrote a piece on “getting it”. In widow speak, people who “get it” are those who understand that widowhood is forever and that it’s a delicate condition which should inspire your inner widow to bleed copious amounts of pity indiscriminately. It’s played off as empathy, naturally, but it’s pity – for yourself and the newly widowed – that’s really being promoted.

People who don’t “get it” are the non-widowed because how could they ever imagine such a thing, or begin to have the slightest glimmer of understanding, if they haven’t “been there” themselves? Don’t Get Its are likely to provide solutions and problem solve instead of  mindlessly drooling pity and acceptance of bat shit crazy actions or thoughts. Don’t Get Its are mainly uneducated – though this is rarely a good enough excuse to keep them from being scorned and ridiculed.

But the author of the post, someone I recall from my YWBB days with little fondness, wrote about – gasp – discovering that Don’t Get Its existed among the widowed. Shudder.

Not that she was making judgments. She clearly states –  That’s neither a negative nor a positive statement. It’s just an observation. My observation.

But a calculated and cutting one and then she goes on to clarify that the number of widow idiots is small though it apparently includes her widower boyfriend,* and that it’s mostly a phenomena of being years out and remarried.

The audacity of some of us. Letting time actually heal our wounds and then moving on. Hand the smelling salts to Aunt PittyPat.

I tried to leave a comment on the piece but the widow (not really as she is remarried too) screens her comments and doesn’t post ones that contradict the blog’s thing of “anything goes as long as its sufficiently brown-nosing and dripping with pity”.

Do I get it? In terms of being newly widowed and learning the ropes in the first year or so, I do. It’s brutal and people without support networks are more the norm than not in North American society, which makes it harder. We are also a death denying/fearing culture and this complicates matters.

But people who are farther along and still leading with their widow foot? I don’t get them at all. Why make loss and grief your identity? Why the need to solicit pity? Why blame every disappointment on the totally unrelated death of your spouse? Why still read between the lines of everything the people around you do or say and interpret it as a slap? Why feel sorry for the newly widowed and encourage them to take more time in the depths of grief than they normally would have but for your misguided “help”?

And frankly, I feel misunderstood and judged. Not a positive or negative? My ass.

It is the same old tripe message that implies that those of us who move on must not have had good marriages or loved our spouses.  And don’t get me started on the whole “soul mate thing”.  One widow’s comment on the post actually put forth the self-serving notion that people who move on never experienced real love. That their marriages were inferior and lacked the special magic that allows them to “get it”.  They were to be pitied.

Really?

If I am pragmatic, I must be unfeeling. If I don’t agree with coddling or condoning questionable mindsets or behaviors, I don’t get it.  If I think you are wrong, my marriage must have sucked.

But I do get it, all too well. I just don’t agree and that’s not the same thing at all.

If you want to make a living off your misfortune, you are hardly an anomaly. If you chose to work through your “issues” by pursuing a grief-related career, I’ve met more than a few people who’ve done just that. But don’t disingenuously smear those of us who’ve put our loved ones deaths into the perspective of our own lives and choose to rebuild off the cemetery. And don’t make assumptions about boots you haven’t walked in.

The only eyes we can actually see out of are our own. Myopic as they may be.

*Though she doesn’t  mention what he thinks about being lumped with those of us who clearly didn’t love our late spouses and/or had marriages of questionable soul-mate status.


風雨蘭 Zephyranthes macrosiphon 花朵

Image by 澎湖小雲雀 via Flickr

Newsweek online has a regular feature called My Turn where ordinary people submit essays on topics they are passionate about in hopes of seeing them published to be shared with others. Recently I read an essay by Jess Decourcy Hinds, a twenty-five year old college writing instructor, on the do’s and don’t’s of expressing condolences to the grieving. Ms. Decourcy Hinds lost her father a year ago to cancer. Although she was concerned with society’s tendency to hurry the grieving through the “process” and back to a state that makes everyone but the bereaved person more comfortable, she was truly torqued about the way people phrase their expressions of sympathy. Her essay reminded me a bit of a list that circulates with regularity on the YWBB which is meant to help the non-widowed avoid irritating the widowed with their well-intentioned, but basically clueless and clumsy, attempts to help us feel better.

 

There are all sorts of pat phrases that the newly bereaved will hear during the first hours to months after a loved one dies. Frankly, I don’t recall all the platitudes that I know were offered up to me as balm for my seared soul. The only one I do recall that I still take great issue with is “I understand how you feel” because few people do unless they have been widowed themselves. I only understand bereavement from my own perspective and suspect that I am not alone in this. A point that I think would be lost on the author of this article. My parents are still alive. I haven’t lost a sibling. Though I did lose children to miscarriages, I have not lost a baby or a child. I don’t know what that would feel like. I don’t know how I would react for sure. I do know that based on how it felt to watch my husband slip away from me over months and years and then die, that I can’t imagine the pain of other types of loss of loved ones, and this is mostly because I don’t want to. I have enough pain and memories of pain without imagining losses that have yet to or may never occur in my lifetime. I am honest now when I express my sympathies to those newly laid low by grief. I am very sorry for the pain they must be feeling, and I really can’t imagine what it must be like.

 

A good friend from many years back lost her son when he was just a bit younger than my daughter. He was murdered by her now ex-husband. We have fallen out of touch over the years and those times when we have reconnected, we haven’t discussed him. Since that time she has moved forward, married again and has a little boy who is two years younger than my Dee, and I have lost a husband. The one time we did tiptoe around the edges of our losses, we both came to the agreement that there is no road map for grief. No handbook to follow. And we are left to struggle through as best fits our needs. I think that probably this can be said of those around us as they grope for words of sympathy. Because it is sympathy they are expressing, not empathy. They don’t know.