The Spectator’s Guide To Grieving

I just had a lively discussion with some people about grieving and some of the awful platitudes we’ve gotten. “Everything happens for a reason” and “It’ll be okay” being the two that seemed to trigger the most scarlet-eyed anger. And that got me thinking, when Dustin died, what did I need and want the most from those around me?

Here’s my list:

  • Say you’re sorry. If you don’t have experience of your own with traumatic loss, stop there.
  • Don’t try to explain it or put it into perspective. That will only come with time, and in the beginning, perspective is the last thing a grieving person is capable of seeing.
  • Don’t tell them their lost loved one is better off now. That is cold damn comfort when your heart’s just been ripped out. Let them come to that conclusion on their own.
  • If you offer help, mean it. Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep. If you say he or she can call anytime, be prepared for that to mean 3 a.m.
  • Don’t push them to get better faster-it doesn’t work that way.
  • Don’t offer religion unless you’re damn sure that person shares your views.
  • Don’t offer to listen if you’re going to get exhausted by it-certain grieving people need to talk a LOT, and will repeat themselves quite a bit. If that isn’t your thing, don’t offer.
  • Be prepared for the process to take a hell of a lot longer than you think it should.
  • When they get angry (and they will), don’t take it personally. If they need to throw things, hit up Goodwill for some old plates and let them break every damn one.
  • Educate yourself on the grieving process, and how it changes depending on the type of loss and the level of trauma associated with it.
  • Be prepared for the anniversaries (birthdays, date of death, date of burial, installation of the headstone, holidays, marriage/dating anniversaries) to be absolutely awful.
  • Be patient. Let me say that again: Be patient.

It will get better. Eventually. Grief happens on its own timeline, not anyone else’s. Keep in mind that in your zeal to help, you could be causing more harm than good, so try to keep the grief-stricken person first in your thoughts. Sometimes a person may need professional help and you may not know how to broach that subject; I would contact a local grief support group or center to get advice on how to proceed.

*I do not expect this is the end of the list. This was a spur-of-the-moment post, so I will be adding to it as I’ve had time to consider the issue.

The Tortoise and the Hare

The most frustrating part of this whole process is its slowness.

After the first torturous four weeks, the meds kicked in and the raw, scraped skin of my emotions began to heal over. While I no longer feel like I am being slowly boiled in industrial acid, I am not sure this wrapped-in-wool feeling is any better. That being said, I had a full-on crying jag when I got home from work, so obviously the pain hasn’t gone anywhere.

I am still faced with sharp, cutting reminders of his loss every day. The music he particularly loved, or any reference to Batman. The food I love to cook, yet can’t feed him. Events I get excited over, then realize I can’t experience with him. They add up, piling up in my lungs like sand.

And I know this is going to last a long, long time. The first part was the sprint; my only goal was to get through it. This middle part is the marathon, and is a grueling process of trying to figure out how to live my life around a gaping hole. I am lonely, so lonely, yet spending time with friends just throws his absence into stark relief. I am wandering around in my own life: not moving back, but not moving forward, either. Limbo. Purgatory. But this is part of the process, the part that allows my new reality to settle, allows me to learn how to navigate through it.

Dating is not something I can even begin to contemplate at this point. The very idea is exhausting. As lonely as I may be, I can’t imagine spending time with someone just so that I’m not alone; my loneliness has a specific cause and an impossible cure.

I know in any relationship I try to have in the future I will have to explain the memorial tattoo on my ankle, and it’s not an explanation I am willing to give freely. Anyone who may come next will have to understand a part of me will always be in love with someone else. Ask yourself, if you were in that person’s shoes, would you be okay with that?

If I had been asked that question last year, I would have had serious second thoughts, and I think most people would.

The men in my life have my best interests at heart, but they’re starting to push. Move on, get out more, spend time with people, let it go, leave it behind. Again, they mean well, but in their zeal to help, they miss something fundamental about women in general and me in particular.

Men and women process trauma much differently. Obviously, there are individual differences, but in general, men want to leave it behind while women want to talk about it.

And not just talk about it. We will haul out every detail and wrinkle and pick it apart, put it back together, and take it apart again. We will examine from every angle, repeatedly. Whether it be an argument with a loved one, a breakup, the ruin of a marriage, death, or any other kind of trauma, we will pore over it like the answers to life itself will be found there.

Because for us, they will be. This is how a woman comes to terms with the questions that have no answers, how we reconcile hope with pain, how we learn to accept that which can’t be changed. We need to ask why?, and how?, and why me? until our new reality makes some sort of sense, or until we accept that it will never really make sense. In the case of loss, this is also how we remember and honor our loved ones. What may appear upon first glance to be wallowing and a refusal to let go is generally anything but.

With any process, it’s easily possible to get hung up in this phase and never allow it to come to its natural close. A lack of understanding from the people around us can do it; nothing motivates repetition of a message more than deaf ears. Rushing it and not giving it its due will often drag it out indefinitely.

For me in particular, I am facing a lack of understanding of how introverts work. I may split the extrovert/introvert axis of the Miggs Bryer personality index, but there is one thing that rules them all: I need to be alone.

I recognize the value of socializing, and I enjoy it. I can be outgoing and do not appear to be shy. However, being with people tends to wear me out, and when I take a hit-especially one as hard as this one-I need to be alone to process, recharge, and heal. I see and socialize with people every day at work, I have a therapist to help me navigate through this loss, and I am doing what I can to take care of myself properly. Forcing myself to do things I am not ready to do or frankly don’t have the energy for would not be progress, but a setback.

So please, well-meaning people, leave me be. I’ve got this.