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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Absorb It

If you've never read a Carolyn Hax column, you're missing out.  She's an incredible advice columnist.  She calls people on their shit, but in a loving and compassionate way. (Yes, I realize that I could learn some things from her.  I read the columns...we'll see how it goes.) Anyway, a friend of mine pointed out a particular piece the other day in which a woman had written in because a friend of hers had lost a child.  The writer was "rubbed the wrong way" because her grieving friend made a list of all of the things that weren't helpful to hear when losing a child.  She went on to ask Carolyn the following question, "Where is the border between having on blinders due to grief and not realizing that people are just trying their best vs unreasonable expectations for others to say exactly what you want to hear?"  

The response was absolutely perfect.  Carolyn replied, "It has been well established in this forum and others that well-meaning words at times of grief can easily be, or just be perceived as, insensitive. And, what is the perfect thing to say to one grieving person is a slap in the face to another.
Because these friends just lost a child, I think the best way to approach it is with a free pass. They're devastated. Their pain is spilling over the loss itself and onto everything related to the loss. You, as the not- (or less-) devastated party, are the one who is able to absorb this, so just absorb it. "

AAAHHH!!! ABSORB IT!  I love it.  Exactly.  Absorb it.  Meaning, don't look for a hidden agenda.  Don't look for the ways in which the grieving person is trying to hurt you.  I guarantee you that their responses to most things have absolutely nothing to do with you.  They aren't trying to come up with ways to hurt you, or to make you feel less helpful.  They aren't even thinking about you.  Selfish?  Maybe.  Necessary for survival?  Yes.  A grieving person is only capable of handling their own feelings, and a majority of the time they aren't any good at that either.  When your biggest concern each day is trying to remember reasons to keep breathing, no one else's feelings are on your radar. 

I have been told that although I lost a child I don't have a free pass.  While that may be true for some, I will tell you that those who allow that "free pass" will be the ones the grieving person is likely to gravitate toward.  That's not to say that either approach to dealing with a grieving individual is wrong. In fact, if you are someone who can't "absorb it", you're better off staying least for a little while.  That might be a few weeks, or 10+ years.  Time isn't the same for a grieving person.  What seems like an acceptable time for grief, pain, anger to you will not be the same for that person.  We have no timeline, and this is why...we don't just lose our children on the day that they die.  We lose them a thousand times every day, all day long.

In my own personal experience, my recent losses include an awful conversation with one of my daughters about how she can't remember her brother and the fact that this makes her the worst sister in the world.  It involves a different balance in my physical body because I no longer carry the weight of a toddler on my left hip for hours at a time.  And you know how people accidentally call someone by the wrong name, specifically if there are several children present?  No one makes that mistake anymore.  He's been gone for "so long" now, that his name is not on our tongues in normal conversation.  We wouldn't make the mistake of saying, "Easton is in the bedroom" when talking about one of his siblings or cousins. While these slips of the tongue were difficult to stomach in the past, the absence of them is searingly painful. These are my losses today.  They'll be different tomorrow.  So no, I'm not thinking about my responses to things that are said to me.  I'm well aware of the fact that most people are only trying to be helpful.  I know that no one can say the right thing, because this situation has no right answer.  But also know that I'm not  always going to respond in a way that's acceptable to you.  To be honest, most of the time I miss half the things that are said to me because I'm not listening. 

Luckily, I have several people in my life who absorb more than any person should ever have to. They are my sponges, and I'm grateful for those moments when they have taken the brunt  of every ounce of my "free pass", and chosen to stay.  I'm trying to breathe again.  I'm trying to create a life in which I want to live, one that doesn't involve the physical presence of my son.  I will likely be less social.  I will probably spend a majority of my time angry at the world.  And I will even be blatantly rude, at times.  But I am trying.  I always recognize the effort on the part of others to comfort me, even if my response doesn't convey that message.  I cannot promise to be better.  I can't tell you that what you say on Monday will be received the same way that it is on Thursday.  I can't even tell you WHAT to say. And I'm not saying that it's fair, or that I have that right.  All I can tell you is that the only way to "handle" any response given by a grieving heart is to be a sponge.  Absorb it.