One small shred of truth

A woman in one of my grief groups tells us the story of a man, with whom she had been quite good friends for a long time before her daughter died.  After her daughter's death, every time she saw this friend or heard from him, he kept pushing the same message: "Get over it".  As is common in these situations, the two grew apart.  She found she had no room left for him in this new life she was living - the life without her daughter, and he grew bored of hearing that she was "still" in pain.  There could never be common ground......UNTIL.....his son died - and he fell into the abyss.  After that, she heard from him daily - usually multiple times per day.  He relied (and still relies) on her, the way that so many of us tend to rely on the people who started on this road before us.  And while she knew how important her support was to him, and how much he needed (really NEEDED) her, she couldn't help but feel a little bitter.  His words had so often hurt her before he lost his own child.  He had spoke of her daughter with such little care, as though her life hadn't mattered at all, which cut this bereaved mother to her core.  In his new place of grief, it was all about him.  HE was the one in pain, HE was the one who had just lost a child, HE continued not to mention her child - probably because he was in too much pain to think about her.  Of COURSE she would be there for him - because he was not the same man he was - he too was now changed forever and he FINALLY understood that there was no getting over it - only through.  What a terrible way for him to have learned.  Really - the absolute worst.

I have not had this exact experience - though it resonates with me so much.  I remember that years ago (when I was a teenager) an older mentor of mine lost his sister to cancer and I didn't say a thing.  I hadn't said a thing and I was VERY aware of the fact that I hadn't.  "I didn't know what to say" - so I kept quiet.  I think I even avoided him for a period, which still makes me feel sick to think about.  A few years later, my grandfather died - and I knew.  I didn't know what it was like to lose a sibling exactly, because that is unique and frankly, a much more shocking and awful kind of loss in the fact that she was a young woman, with her whole life ahead of her - but I knew what it meant to know that I would never see this person who I loved so much ever again in my life - and it was more pain than I'd ever felt.  I wasn't sure if it was too late to do so, but I did approach this friend/mentor and I apologized for my selfishness.  TWO YEARS AFTER THE FACT.  I told him that I only now understood a tiny fraction of the pain he must have felt.  I am willing to bet my life that I was not the only one who hadn't said anything.  I knew that I had acted selfishly and I was so so sorry that his adored sister had died too young.  It is somewhat ironic that I now understand the isolation of having lost someone too young (and therefore, too scary) to mention.  I have always wished that I had behaved differently.  The shame is just so much more illuminated now.

After losing Max, I drifted from many, many friends.  They didn't know how to sit with me, they wouldn't comfort me, they didn't say anything, they stopped talking to me, they told me in many various ways to "get over it", or they wondered why I hadn't reached out to them (and were insulted?) and so they just let the drifting happen - instead of reaching out to me in my time of need.  Three plus years later - this fact of drifting from so many does not make me sad or hurt much at all.  In a weird way, I even get it and feel like we are all probably better off.  I was and am scary and people don't know what to say.  That is true. But, that doesn't mean that I have to put myself out for those people who I scare.  It also doesn't mean that it is too late for someone to say, "I am sorry I wasn't there for you....."  Today, I choose to surround myself with the people who were and are there for me.  They are the people with whom I am most comfortable ...and frankly, I am tired of worrying about whether everyone else is comfortable with the awful fact that my beautiful son died.  I would rather concentrate on how my relationships make me feel. I want to try and be in mutually supportive and loving relationships moving forward and so I don't waste my time with the other kinds.  And, if I really think back on most of those old relationships, they were challenging before Max died, the fractures were just highlighted by his death.  In the meantime, there are some amongst the group that drifted away that have faced their own personal crises in these past years and have either reached out to me personally or more generally to our shared community for support....and in some ways, I feel a little bitter, like the woman in my grief group.  Only none of these individuals has lost a child.  They have faced other disappointments and perhaps griefs of their own - nothing catastrophic but griefs none the less. And, I really don't know how to respond - Is it my obligation to reach out to or answer the call from everyone in pain, regardless of how they treated me in my most desperate and vulnerable moments?  Really, am I responsible for being the leaning post to those who have hurt me?  Since I've been through hell, should I be the bigger person and reach out to all who are struggling because I know what it means to struggle?  I just don't think I am there yet and it causes me some guilt and angst.

A woman in another grief group recently asked the question, "With the holidays approaching, should I let my family and friends know that I want them to mention my son? To visit his grave? To tell me that they are thinking of him in their cards? Or, should I just let them slowly drift away?"  I think that is what it all boils down to when it comes to relationships.  The truth is, we know that those who ignore the elephant in the room, which is our personal struggle, can never be someone we will feel close to.  From my experience, the ones who would respond to our cry for help are usually the ones who would think to do this on their own, without our having to tell them to do it for us.  I've been told (many many times in various ways), that it was my fault that so many drifted, said nothing, did nothing, told me to move on - because I was too scary.  I'm ok with that.  I will take full responsibility.  But, I wonder - should we blame ourselves or everyone else when we don't say out-loud exactly what we need (which I actually thought, perhaps erroneously, is what I had done - by writing this blog)?  I really think that there is nobody to blame.  In times of crisis, your true friends will step forward on their own - without your having to tell them to do so - despite how scary you are, or uncomfortable your story makes them.  They will step forward because they love you and want you to feel loved and supported.  They will step forward because they WANT to, because to not step forward would hurt them as much as it hurts you.  It won't be a question for those friends.  You won't have to ask them.  They will just be there.  They won't take it personally that you haven't called them or returned their calls.  They will just keep trying because they know you cannot be held responsible at a time when you can barely get through the slow moving unbearable moments of this new life of yours.  At first it will hurt that not everyone you thought you were close to is making an effort.  You will feel betrayed or abandoned or crazy even, that you thought you were close to people who you most obviously were not.  In time, however, you will know where your truest relationships lie - and that will actually feel good.  I've never known depths of friendship and love like I know today.  A small shred of the truth and security that inevitably comes out of the most devastating and horrifying of life's possible experiences.


Jayden's Mommy said...

Great Post! So much resonates on how I feel. I definitely agree that true friends would have been there no matter how uncomfortable it was, how ugly we were. I'm not ready yet to be the shoulder of everyone that decided to ignore or pretend it didn't happen; I too feel guilty but I just can't. Thanks for writing. Much love to the munchkins.

Rose said...

Thanks for writing this. Xoxo

Taryn said...

I love what you share here. Thank you for being real in your sorrow, disappointment, anger,, hope and LOVE! You are a beautiful soul!