Thursday, November 18, 2010

Honoring Grief

Not too long ago I wrote about people who were in "The Grief Club." Since I was "re-initiated" recently with the loss of my father, I realize how extra-sensitive to the actions and words of people we are when it comes to honoring grief. It's very easy to be offended or hurt when someone, who is trying to say a comforting thing, actually says something that hurts us. Common examples, when it comes to death are things like:

- He's in a better place.
- It's lucky he didn't die slowly.
- He's no longer in pain.

While many of these platitudes are fine when those of us who are grieving say them, it somehow feels wrong for someone who isn't grieving or doesn't really understand the pain we're going through to tell us these things. So... some people just say nothing, which is really bad. A simple "I'm so sorry" and a hug will do, but say something! I was very hurt by how few of my friends even acknowledged my fathers' death. In fact, I almost quit my job because my boss was so insensitive. My sister hasn't talked to her sister-in-law in years because she was so hurt that the death of my brother had never been acknowledged. When you're grieving you don't want pity, but you want understanding. Perhaps the only people you can truly get that from are those who are also experiencing that grief... or people who have experienced a similar grief. Others often don't get it, but they do get credit for trying, so I try not to be too hard on them.

However, recently I've felt very upset about a discussion I had with a very good friend about seat belts. My brother died in a car accident and he would have lived if he'd had his seat belt on. He went through the windshield. His passenger, thank God, was wearing his seat belt and walked away without a scratch...

My friend, after I'd told her how important I thought it was to wear a seat belt, told me she didn't believe in the "stats" and was sorry that I now lived my life "in fear" because of my brother's death. Though I'm sure she didn't mean it to be offensive, this hurt me very deeply. As I wrote in my other post, there are many things I learned from being in "the grief club" and one of them most definitely is not to live your life in fear, but in love, respecting the fragility of life. This friend is not in the "grief club" herself, so, again, I need to try and remember that she didn't realize how much those words would sting me.

The opposite effect happens when we feel someone really understands our grief. We feel so touched and grateful for their empathy. We feel that they are honoring and respecting our grief and realize how much we loved the person we lost.

I'm going to repeat the lessons I learned when I was initiated into "the club." These are in honor of my brother, Chris, who lived his life fully and with passion. He made a mistake by not wearing his seat belt that day, but that didn't teach me to live in fear or to avoid risk. His life and his death taught me this:

• Don't take life for granted. Every minute is a gift.
• Don't take the people in your life for granted. Love them. Don't sweat the small stuff.
• Live life to the fullest. Do all the things you've always wanted to do. Just do it!
• Take risks --maybe not the life-threatening type so much... but certainly take risks with love. What's the worst that can happen when you love someone? They don't love you back? Experiencing a broken heart is bad, but it is not the grief of death.
• Give... Don't worry so much about money. Spend it on people and experiences, more than things that sit on a shelf.
• Embrace your faith. Learn from my friend, Craig, who despite ALS, has the most awe-inspiring faith I've ever known.
• Have compassion for those that join the club. Go to the funerals, memorial services, and celebrations of life, with arms open to hold those that are in unbearable pain.
• Hold on to the best parts of the people you have lost and pass on what you learned from them. Keep them in your heart.

I'd like to add one more that I learned from my friend, Rebecca Mullen of Altared Spaces.
• Build your own "altared spaces" and notice, respect, and learn from the altared spaces of others.

Rebecca exemplifies this in her post about traveling west about a beautifully adorned roadside altar:

My eye catches these roadside altars. As I drove on in silence I said a little prayer for the people who are maintaining this one with such grace. Is this a mother who lost her child? All of us drive by. The world goes on and, maybe, someone glances at the spot where life forever changed for someone else. I’m not making a judgment about how I should have noticed sooner or how my life should be something different because life here has changed for this family. I have a ridiculously happy life and I build altars to that every day that no one ever sees. I’m just noticing someone else’s altar I suppose.

1 comment:

rebecca @ altared spaces said...

I knew what I wanted to say and then I got all flustered because you quoted me. Thank you so very much!'s my comment. Have you read Harry Potter? Do you know how only the people who've experienced death can see the thestrils? I think JK Rowling understands your "grief club" as well. The club members just see things while others drive on by.

It doesn't make one better than the other. It is about a noticing. Lots to think about here.