You know what annoys me, like, a lot? People around us who manage, effortlessly it seems, to make their interactions with us in our grief, yes, say it with me... all about them. People who make a production, often somewhat publicly, out of agonizing over whether to call their grieving friends, and of what to say. The sort of backdoor self-compliment highlighted on last night's 30 Rock-- "It's hard for me to watch American Idol because I have perfect pitch,"-- the "It's hard for me to talk to grieving people because of how sensitive and considerate I am" sort of thing.
Luckily, we didn't get many of these directed at us. This past winter, though, I got to witness a public (in as far as an open post on the wilds of the internets is public) display of woe-is-me-I-want-to-be-the-bestest-friend-ever-but-
-it's-so-hard-how-do-I-make-everything-better bit. It took me a few minutes to figure out what was so distasteful to me in that piece of writing and the follow up comments from the author, but then I got it-- it was all about her, about her desire to fix things so she can be seen as the savior, the one who did the right thing, the rightest thing.
Now, I get that humans are self-centered animals, and I am certainly not blameless on that front myself. But dude, if there is one area, one effing area of human interaction where it behooves you to check your shit at the door, this might be it. Don't you think? I get, too, that doing something, anything, makes people feel less powerless in the face of the big bad random universe. But see above re: checking shit. Because making yourself feel better at the expense of the person already in pain is.. how do I say it... oh, yes-- a pretty shitty thing to do.
This concludes the rant portion of today's post, and brings us to the part where I contemplate, much more calmly, I hope, thoughts this brought up.
In that post, a few commenters tried, very gently, to tell the author that in grief there is no fixing things, that basically all you can do is be there for your friend, but she wasn't listening. But, but, but was all she had to answer. Finally, Aite, a good friend I've mentioned before, basically gave it to her straight-- it's not about you. Entering the grieving person's space should not be about worrying about how you will look doing the entering. You can't fix anything. Grief is what happens when there is nothing to do. Don't try to fix it, and you won't look dumb. You can't "remind" someone of their grief-- they remember all the time. Whether they want you to bring it up or wait for them to do so is individual, and you should follow your friend's lead in that, but assuming that people forget and you can remind them is pure wishful thinking.
My friend is mighty skilled in this art of abiding, being there for your friend, selflessly, at whatever distance and with whatever in hand your friend needs. I hope, too, that what we are doing here, in this space, is also very much abiding. Talking, listening, not trying to fix the unfixable. Now, if only laptops could dispense booze too... I'd send you all a drink or five.
So who is this grieving person now? If you are the one doing the abiding, who do you assume is in front of you? Is the grieving person changed, forever altered by the grief? Or is this the same person you have known all this time, only in pain and grieving? Are we changed or are we, at the core, the same?
My first impulse was to say that of course we have changed. A deadbaby blogger who has since gone private was told by one of her friends to not let this change her. What a shitty thing to say, was my immediate response. Would you tell that to a mom who has birthed a living baby? Hell, no. It's a foundational value of our society that parenthood changes people. In the classical mythology of the media and entertainment as well as the assumed playground wisdom, there are things only a parent can understand. Condescending? Of course. But also pervasive and commonly accepted. So why would people not allow it as the same level of truth that having a dead baby should change you? Change you as profoundly and as deeply as having a live one is assumed to change you? And also, don't we all change just by living? Would you want to still be your high school self?
But isn't it also true that we are the same basic people, only now with extra crunchy shitty experiences included? Extra sad. With extra tender feelings. Extra sensitive to things people say without thinking. Maybe even wiser and more compassionate. But with the same chewy center?
What defines us as people? Are we changed abruptly, or are we in the process of integrating our grief into the fabric of our selves? Are we defined by grief, or are we living towards defining our grief as a part of our selves? Are we changed, or are we ever-changing?