We Cope So Differently
There’s a reason that I don’t offer much advice: I’m not an expert on grief. I’m an expert on my own grief, but not anyone else’s—every day of this journey is still new to me. We are all so very different in our approach and our capacity to embrace or defy grief and in our approach to how we process our anxiety and pain.
In my short year since Pete’s death, I’ve become acutely aware of other people who have been thrust into this same ghastly spot. Most of my awareness of others’ pain and loss has been experienced through Facebook. **old person alert** I still think that it’s really weird that we share all of our life’s events on the internet, but I’m getting used to it. I don’t think my apprehension is a tech thing, it’s a sharing thing, and I can see the beauty in that too. So many people I’ve never met have embraced me, and I get to know and interact with them too. Other people who were once dear but with whom I had lost touch, have now become reconnected, and I really love that. Almost daily, however, someone posts about a near or distant loss they’ve suffered and now, more than ever before, I feel as though I can put myself in their shoes.
I’ve come to realize that we do not all have the same experience. I have found myself feeling really shocked by certain things people chose to do after losing someone who was embedded in their life, particularly a spouse. Then, I think it through and wonder, “What if someone tried to explain to me the perfect way to grieve?” I would never dare offer advice, I just think to myself, “Why would he or she say that? Why would they do that?” I don’t disparage anyone’s process, I am just astonished by certain behaviors, only because they are different than my own. I have realized quickly, though, that we all have one thing in common—we are all in just a huge mess.
- Some hang on to everything—some give it all away.
- Some put out more photos—some remove all trace.
- Some travel—some quit leaving the house.
- Some immediately begin to date—some never open their hearts to romantic love again.
None of this even factors in the religious or cultural differences among us.
A good friend of mine wrote to me asking for advice. It felt strange to be an “authority” on such a topic as grief, but I guess I was honored that she thought I had something to offer. She told me that she was going through her husband’s clothes. It had been a few weeks since he had died. As she cleaned his things out of their closet she started to panic and began to feel terrible pain. I was shocked and told her to stop—that it was too soon and she shouldn’t be putting herself through such a tortuous task. I think I even said, “Why on earth are you putting yourself through this?” Of course my only frame of reference was imagining doing that to myself. I didn’t put myself in her shoes, I put myself in my own shoes. Then she explained to me that the memories, all of the reminders, were just too painful for her, and removing the clothes, in the end, would mean she wouldn’t have to face those reminders every day. I acquiesced, and I realized that I definitely was not an expert on her emotions, only my own. I’ve barely changed a thing of Pete’s. His clothes are unmoved in the closet. His books are by his bedside and his guitar and banjo still sit on their stands in the sunroom. It gives me comfort to be around all the reminders.
It should be noted that people with children, especially young children, are in a completely different position. Another acquaintance of mine posted a video of his young son being surprised with the news that he was going to go to Disneyland. The little boy’s expression was priceless. He was thrilled! His mom had died from cancer just a few weeks earlier. Off-camera you could hear his father trying to be so excited for him. I can only imagine what he must have been feeling sharing such good news with his son but knowing how rough it will be to be there without his wife. So some parents take their kids to Disneyland, others might not want to do anything but grieve silently with their children.
We all have to handle these traumas in our own way. And every way is just as it should be.
What does your process look like? I hope you'll share a comment here so we can have a conversation.