“One of the big things I talk about in the grief world is how other people want to rush grief. They want the old you back, they want things to go back to “normal,” they’ve grown impatient with the way grief lives in you. All that cheerleading and cheering up has, at its root, an impatience with what things are, and how they need to be”. Megan Devine
Megan Devine’s recent writing prompt really resonated with me when I read it a few days ago. It won’t leave me be. It starts with the little paragraph above, and the second paragraph is at the end of this piece of writing. As usual, I find that I have to flap around, wade about in my own experience, story, truth, before I truly understand the simplicity of what Megan captures in a few short sentences.
So here’s my own version. The long way home. Via a number of different stopping off points.
I don’t know why it is, but grief, people’s personal grief, while clearly an intensely personal and private affair, somehow seems to be “everyone’s business”. Up for grabs. People get to have an opinion on it. Feel entitled to comment/judge/advise/etc. I get that – intellectually, at least. Unless the griever is self-isolating for the long haul, in a deserted cave on a deserted mountainside, never to return to polite society again, they might just about be allowed to get on with their grief the way they choose. And whatever, they won’t have to hear the comments of those who beg to differ.
But in mainstream society, with friends, family, colleagues and so on, grief seems to be a communal affair. Which is weird, because if grief is just love when the person (people) has (have) died, and the generally-accepted convention is that how you love is your own damned business, why does someone’s grief seem to be a free-for-all?
I am reminded of a time when I was heavily pregnant with Ben and in a lift going up a large number of floors. A woman, totally unknown to me, joined me in the lift and somehow felt “entitled” to reach out and touch my belly. She stroked my big, fat, pregnant belly. And in truth, I wasn’t even shocked. Probably because of all of the prodding that comes with medical examinations during pregnancy. I am more shocked now, over 20 years on, that that happened. Why she felt like she also had some “ownership” of my pregnancy I don’t know.
It’s sort of like that with grief. Grief, living with gaping losses, big, ugly craters peppered over the landscape of my life, is hard. Inexplicably hard. A constant ache-thud-punch combined to the heart and belly. Tiredness that seeps into every pore and cell. Yes, really, even “only” 11 months, even “only” 3 years on (I will leave it at “just” those two deaths).
So yes – it hurts. It’s hard. It’s heavy. It’s lonely. And it makes me different. Sadder. Tired-er. And it makes you annoyed, irritated, impatient. And probably fearful (“Shit – really – does it take this long?”) It might make you want the “old Emma” back. Dammit, I want the “old Emma” back too. (Spoiler alert: she doesn’t exist anymore so she can’t come back. Not unless her people come back, and her life is suddenly less incomprehensibly tough).
I get sooooo much advice. I get “corrected” so often. I am asked, “How are you?” and given half a sentence’s space to respond before whoever has asked the question goes off on their tangent (yes – there are some – and very few – exceptions – thank you). Some people tell me they are worried about what I do or say, or don’t do or don’t say. I am brutal in assessing whether or not this is genuine concern for me (rarely) or a projection of their own fears and needs and anxiety (most often).
Please hold it. Hold your advice, your feedback, your comments and judgements.
Hold your tongue and use your ears instead.
Be curious. Be interested. Be accepting. Be tolerant. Be forgiving. Be compassionate. Be Buddha.
Be non-attached to your expectations of what someone who has lost a best friend, a brother, a husband and a youngest child in the past few years “should” be like. (Heck, I don’t even know what someone with that level of losses “should” be like).
Be non-attached to your hopes for me, your visions for my “turnaround”.
And for the record, in my humble opinion, I am doing brilliantly. I eat, drink, shop for and cook food. I keep up on the news, I show interest in other people’s lives (more than they do in mine). And I still to some truly excellent client work. I more than function.
So here’s my point. It’s not just me. It’s not just about me. Please stop focusing, commenting on what I should or should not be doing. What I am doing or not doing is my business, and I am doing my business as well as I possibly can at the moment.
It’s as much about you – your needs and expectations of me, your fears of what this clusterfuck of a life’s hand would do to you. Your worry that “if Emma isn’t better by now, then how will I be when/if x or y or z person dies?”
I suspect you’ll be as different from me as you are from me on a pre-loss day. I suspect you’ll be as different to me as your loves are from mine. I suspect you will feel unacknowledged and abandoned and misunderstood by most of your “go to” friends.
And I suspect you will somehow carry on doing the best that you can with the resources you have in every breath, in every second of your new, grief-soaked life.
As for me, I hope that I will be more patient, more tolerant and understanding of your slow, sluggish, unique-to-you pain.
No – it’s not just me who is changed. Of course I am changed. Radically. Right down to my roots. And I can’t change back.
Maybe – just maybe – you could also change a little if we are to continue to dance together. Can you too be changed by my change? Can you accommodate, bend, flex, if only from time to time? Absorb some of the after-shocks and not just pass more back? Not just resist and object and push back and criticize?
That would be so nice. I’d really appreciate it. If only for a minute or two.
Otherwise it’s going to lead to arguments or worse, desertion. And believe me, desertion invariably feels like the easy option. Less efforting.
Back to Megan Devine: “With grief, I am actually quite patient. With other peoples’ hearts, I know to wait. Not because they’ll be transformed, but because what is happening is precisely what needs to be. It gets to be honored and witnessed and seen for what it is: dissolution”.
Dissolution. Yes. That is what has happened to me. To my life. To my relationships. As Megan Devine says somewhere else, “Grief rearranges your address book”.