Thursday, March 12, 2009

There is no right thing.

After I lost my dad, the thing I had to bite my tongue at were the number of people who asked, "were you close?" I mean, what? I'm sure the same thoughts are running through your head as ran through mine: was my grief less valuable if we hadn't been getting along? Do they mean if my parents divorced and my dad was homeless under a bridge, it wouldn't be so bad? It was made even more odd by the fact that so many people said it. My father was 46 when he died, and I was 21, home alone with him. I gave him CPR until the ambulance crew arrived. I don't think there is much greater intimacy in the world than being the pumping heart and breathing lungs of another human being. That's what I wanted to say to these well meaning folks. Imagine how that could have damaged a person (my friends were all college kids, mind you), had I painted the whole picture. The color of his face (blue), the way he sounded breathing the death rattle over and over because I couldn't allow myself to let him die once and for all.

But after losing my son, I felt buoyed by the generosity I felt in letting people say foolish things to try to comfort me. There they are, poor things who care about me, in my grief, wanting to say the right thing, but there is no right thing. Say any embarrassing thing you want to kick yourself for years later. (Mostly what they say is "I can't imagine what you're going through" -- and indeed, who could? Who would want to?) I'm not so absorbed in myself and my misery that I don't have room for you. In fact, it makes me feel better to know that by not snapping at you, I've eased your day a little, made grief seem less terrifying to you. That I've been able to give something, even at the very bottom of the pit of what I call my life. So thank you, well meaning person who has no idea how horrible my loss is. You don't have to say the right thing to me. I can see it in your eyes what you mean and that is all I need.


  1. Very poignant, Iso.

    I suppose the reason so many of us ask stupid questions or make stupid remarks to those who have just lost someone close is that we really don't know what the fuck to say, but feel like we have to say something.

    I know I find myself unconsciously avoiding my friends who have suffered such a loss, because I dread saying something stupid and insensitive.

    Hearing someone articulate this from your perspective helps me have a better idea of how I should respond in the future.

  2. I can't promise they won't get mad, but I think the important thing is to recognize that possibility and not be upset by it. The message behind their anger isn't "I'm mad at you" so much as "I am driven mad by grief and you are a safe person to be angry at." I truly think they're transferring their anger at the unfairness of their lives onto the person who mentions the cause of it.

    It's not so terrible, pissing off a true friend. They come around.

  3. Beautifully put. All around.

    And, I don't think I've ever seen it from quite that perspective -- that from the bottom of the pit you are able to give.

    That's really mind-blowing.


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