Monday, April 25, 2016

On Grief: The Responses

I was talking with a friend recently about this advice column: 

We've both survived horrible experiences and I think what makes us such great friends is that we both agree on the right way to respond.  When I had my miscarriage, she checked in with me constantly, which I really appreciated.  I loved it because it made me feel like like I wasn't forgotten, like she heard my silent screams of pain, even though she couldn't be there with me.  When something terrible happens, the world doesn't stop spinning. Life goes on, for you and other people. It was so nice that my friend (and many other people) took time out of THEIR day to acknowledge MY sadness.  

And all through my grieving process, my friend has listened to me talk about how disappointed I've been when I never heard from some people to whom I thought I was close. And she agreed with me. We both feel like when someone close to you loses someone or falls ill or has to suffer through life kicking the shit out of them, something should be said.  And if not said, something should be done. We both believe that in lieu of searching for "the right words," flowers should be sent, a card should be mailed, a meal should be cooked, or a visit should be made.  Actions often speak much louder than words anyway.

Even when it came to people I wasn't close to...if I knew that THEY knew I had a miscarriage...I wanted them to say something.  In the first few months following the miscarriage, whenever I was with someone who knew, I expected them to say something. I wanted them to say SOMETHING. And if they didn't, I was hurt.  I interpreted their silence as either them not caring about me; them not caring about my child; or them just wanting to pretend like this bad thing never happened.  And when you have a miscarriage all kinds of weird shit goes through your mind. Like, "Maybe they're not saying anything, because they don't think my unborn baby was a real child."  That was my interpretation.

But you know what's interesting? I didn't always feel slighted. There are people in my life who have not said anything, and I feel fine. Some of Ben's friends, for instance, never addressed it with me. But I'm OK with that because I know they were all really there for him when he needed them. And I love that.  Similarly, my best friends didn't reach out to Ben directly.  None of us have exchanged numbers I guess LOL

Then, as Carolyn Hax mentions, there are the people who surprised me. They are the ones who I wasn't counting on to be there, but then they were, in an awesome way.

"I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they'll 'say something about it' or not.  I hate if they do, and if they don't." 
 --C.S. Lewis

Reading the comments on Carolyn's advice column, I learned that there are actually so many people who feel just as sad and angry for their friend or family member who is going through crises, but the weight of the situation stuns them into speechlessness.  They just can't find the words to say.  Then there's the group who want to say something, but are too worried about saying the wrong thing.  And then there is the group that feels it's best to not bring up the terrible event, and risk hurting their loved one further.

My crises in life have revealed so much to me about who I am, and what I need from my relationships and what I want to give to the people I am close to.  And you've heard this before, that crises can also "show you who your friends are."  But I don't know if it's that cut and dry anymore, because everyone reacts differently, and I guess there is always a reason behind their reaction.

Because of this, I love Carolyn's advice toward the end of her column--lean in to the people who comfort you the way you need to be comforted.  And for those who disappoint you...give yourself space and time to decide how you feel them.