It seems like there are articles in major publications almost every week now about grief. About how previous generations just don’t understand. About how our culture just doesn’t have the right words to comfort those who live with grief.
I am astounded by how well they grasp what grief feels like, and astonished that they contradict each other’s conclusions and yet still have it right.
I think that’s because grief itself is a contradiction.
As I cycled down the coast, a few months after my son’s death, I remember feeling so alone that I felt I would spilt into pieces with the aching need for company. But at the same time I couldn’t stand to be around anyone.
For years after his death I felt like everyone was wrong. Even when they agreed with me, they were just wrong.
Many of the articles I have found recently list all the things you, as a friend of the grieving person, should and should not do or say. Some of them are no-brainers. But many of them could hurt just as easily as they could help. I hated people telling me as my son was dying of cancer in my bed, that what I was going through was the worst thing a mother could go through. I was angry at them for imprisoning me within my experience. I knew what I faced, I did not need them to tell me how bad it would be. I wanted to pay attention, and find something different than the worst thing possible. But then I met someone who told me that I didn’t have it so bad, because at least I knew what was coming, and that parents whose child died suddenly by accident had it worst… and I choked on my own regurgitating grief from their words.
No one really knows what to say to someone who grieves. Maybe that’s partly because there are no words. But I think it’s also partly because grief makes it so hard to listen. We’re so shaken up by our grief that we cling to anything that makes sense, and most of the people around us don’t make sense anymore.
I think grief spins us around so badly that we don’t really know what we want or need. It doesn’t matter what words of comfort, or what silence people give us… it’s not going to fix anything because grief doesn’t need fixing.
Grief needs to be lived. It wants to be felt and acknowledged.