“… people I thought were family, who somehow make my grief about them…”
For every birthday, there is a deathday: a day marked on secret calendars, calendars written in indigo-Coptic, grand, terrible, and wonderful, but unreadable. And we're the only ones who have it. For every story, there is a central thread: a meaning, and a delineation, clear only after seeing the whole, tying everything together, ineffably. We cannot speak what speaks so loudly to us. Living within walls we did not build, but which, rather built us; understanding none of it, other than that we are inside the walls, and all others, outside. When you think you're the only one, you are; when you do not think you are, you are not. Bereavement is both the ultimate reality, and the strongest illusion; and both parts of this paradox are true
It was the one-year anniversary of someone I knew’s passing two days ago. Her roommate, who had taken tireless, personal care of her friend through the final rough years of her life, reached out with a card to her late friend’s son. HIs response was lengthy and angry, and included the quote at the top of this piece.
We all have our ways of dealing with grief, and I’m no expert. I’m not quite sure what a grief expert looks like, now that I think of it. Someone who has been through a lot of it? Someone who has seen a lot of people go through it? Someone who has read studies about people who go through it?
None of those seem like enough to be an expert, and who would want to be, anyway?
Reading his response, it evidently never occurred to him that his mother’s roommate might also be grieving; from his perspective, all the grief was his, literally by birthright. He never saw the raw, daily manifestation of his mother’s illness, and what it took for her roommate to take care of her, and his mother certainly never told him. So I could sort of understand.
Many of us hesitate to say much of anything to the grieving besides a few mumbled cliches, because we know grieving people can get as angry as they want at anyone, and many will. There really is no “moral high ground” when it comes to grief, because there is no high ground at all.
When we feel like we are the only one suffering a loss, we really are alone, for nothing anyone else could feel, or say, or do, has any meaning to us. When we feel like others share a form of our grief, however different their experience was, we are not alone, even if we don’t get to talk to them about it. It is a paradox, but as I said in the poem above, it appears to be true, no matter how paradoxical it is.
Have you experienced the anger of the grieving? Was it yours, or theirs? Does any of this make sense to you?