Month: October 2016

Gay Guy Friends, Grieving Girl Friends, and Sleeping Babies

She knew that she had a tendency to allow her mind to wander, but surely that’s what made the world interesting. One thought led to another, one memory triggered another. How dull it would be, she thought, not to be reminded of the interconnectedness of everything, how dull for the present not to evoke the past, for here not to imply there.”

-Alexander McCall Smith, The Novel Habits of Happiness

I mentioned in my previous post, that my feelings on grief are evolving and complicated. This is sort of related to that, sort of an expansion of it, sort of barely related at all. And it’s the sort of thing that makes me wonder at how everything is interconnected.

In my freshman year of college, a couple of friends felt it was time for them to “come out.” I realize now that my reaction probably wasn’t as supportive as it would be now. Not being in such a situation, I didn’t quite understand the enormity of such a thing. I’m afraid that in one instance my friend was quite nervous, and had been very serious when he had asked me to meet him. (To be honest, we were supposed to meet in my town, but when he asked me to meet him elsewhere, my first worry was that something terrible had happened, that had made him unable to travel. Having recently had an acquaintance be arrested, my thought went there, and I wondered if conditions of bail wouldn’t let him travel to the next county. Which is ridiculous, because I can’t for the life of me figure out what  he would do to be arrested for in the first place. Dear Husband is not kidding when he says I can be irrational from time to time.) I believe my response was something along the lines of, “Whew! I’m glad it’s just this, and not something bad!” Another friend’s coming out was responded to with a shrug, and “Okay. Where shall we go for dinner?” I am wincing at that response, even as I type it.

A dear person close to me just expressed that she wasn’t sure if it was okay for her to still be asking for support after the death of her husband, six months ago. My reaction was better this time, I hope. I told her I was flattered. And, I am.

Because I learned from my kids. Children really do teach us lessons, don’t they? That’s one of the the things I should add to the Mommy Rule Book: Don’t Forget to Learn From Your Kids.

And all they had to do, was sleep.

This precious little thing, sleeping on my lap. Whole naps, snuggled against me. I was quite content to hold my babies for their whole naps, to be a comforting, safe place.

To be a safe place. What a revelation! To be a safe place. It came to me, slowly, that people can be safe places, and that we can be safe places for grown-ups, too.

I was not, by far, the first person any of my friends came out to. I am not the only person supporting my friends and family in rough times. And I am so glad, because we all need many safe places. (As nice as it is, Mommy can’t hold you for every nap, child!) Thank you for considering me one of your safe places.

 

The Etiquette of Grief

I’ve been contemplating this for a while, now. I have discussed it with friends and family, and yet, I still don’t know how to say any of this exactly right. I’ve just about come to the conclusion that, maybe, there is no “exactly right.” Also, as I began to type this, I realized just how complicated my feelings on this are.

2016 has been a rough year. Even as I type this, I am feeling a little bit guilty. There has been so much loss around our family this year. And yet, for all of that, I have been mostly on the periphery. Certainly, I’ve seen it, and felt it, in the way that something that is just there, suddenly is not. It’s like the big tree that used to mark the turn to my parents’ house. A large live oak tree, standing in the island of a divided highway, marking the turnoff to a backroad that was otherwise poorly marked (or unmarked altogether, if the local perennial pastime of stealing street signs was being exercised). And then, the tree was gone. Too many vehicle collisions. Too many years in exhaust fumes. Poor soil. Or maybe even the isolation from other trees wore it down. We were still able to find our street, of course, but the marker that had always been there was gone. It’s been gone many years, now, and that intersection still looks somehow naked. And I think that is a perfect analogy for how I am feeling this year. I miss that tree. Yet, I was not one of the birds or squirrels or other creatures that called it home. For me, it was just a signpost, but for others, it was a vital and concrete part of their lives. I miss it, but it was never my home.

There are not words to express to our friends and family how much I truly wish I could help you. I can’t make it better, though. I can’t become your home. I hope I can help, by not making it be worse than it has to be. There are a hundred thousand things that we do, everyday, that maybe we can take some of the burden of. And that is all I can do.

I am watching my friends and family struggle. They are worried about how their grief appears to others, and in some cases, are even being told (overtly and through hints) that their grief is illegitimate or too-long-lived.

Your feelings are legitimate. You are allowed to feel what you are feeling. You are homeless, now, without your tree, and you are allowed to grieve that loss as long as you need to.

But for all of the different kinds of loss that I’m seeing around me, and all the different ways I am seeing these people cope, or try to cope, I am hearing the same refrain – a worry that they are not doing it “right.” Do you feel like we are watching you, and judging you on the ways you are processing your loss? I’m sure you think we are watching every detail, from the words on the funeral program to the speed with which you clean your house to the day you go back to work.

You’re right. We are.

But it’s not because we think you are doing it wrong. It is because you are guiding us. There is no way to know how to do this, because we have not done it. There is no wrong way to mourn a loved one. There are no signposts. We are watching you, because we are wondering what we would do. What we will, inevitably, one day have to do.

For those who I have not supported as well as I should have: I did not understand. I still don’t fully understand. But much to my sorrow, I am learning. And I am sorry. I’m so, so sorry that I didn’t see. There are some lessons, I suppose, that we don’t want to learn, and so we simply don’t acknowledge that the lesson is being taught. And there are some things, that because they are scary, we willfully decide not to understand. Maybe that is part of maturing – learning the lessons that we never wanted to recognize.

There are those who are going to find this to be an alarming post, and worry that my thoughts are going to dark places.

But I am troubled by a coincidence that cannot go unremarked. My father-in-law passed six months ago. His family is wondering what the statute of limitations on grief are? How long can they be forgiven their sadness? An acquaintance’s husband passed two months ago. She is already getting implications that she should be moving on. This horrifies me. There is no cap. Nor should there be. That is one of the important lessons that I have learned, just recently.

If I have ever made you feel like you have passed the allowable limit on grief in the past, I owe you a profound apology. I had no right, and you are allowed to feel what you are feeling. No matter how long it’s been.

So many of you have taught me these lessons, some gradually over the years, and some who have hit me over the head with it like a proverbial frying pan. I thank you. And sincerely wish I had not only been better to you, but that there was a way to make things better for you.

I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught. – Winston Churchill