I’m a member of a new fraternity, and I know because of the secret handshake I was given. Actually, it wasn’t a handshake at all, it was a hug.
Over the past couple of months I’ve run into two good friends on two separate occasions—two women I have known for years through our profession, and for whom I have great admiration—but we’ve never really seen each other socially. In both situations it was the first time I had seen them since major losses in their lives. They both had lost a child. Ironically, it was within the same general timeframe as when Pete died so we were all on a similar “schedule.”
I like to think that Erin BPD (before Pete’s death) would have behaved appropriately and said all the right things, but I don’t know for sure. I think I would have been a little apprehensive and afraid to upset them. I know that Erin APD (after Pete’s death) feels confident that she behaved with much more understanding and definitely without fear of saying the wrong thing. It was actually pretty new territory for me. I’ve spent a lot of time here in this blog discussing how I want to be approached, acknowledging that it tends to change on a daily basis and is basically a no-win situation for anyone attempting to comfort me. Not only had these wonderful women lost someone, but they’d lost a child—a whole different ballgame. As massive as my grief is, I don’t imagine it can touch the sadness of losing a child. Again, this isn’t a ranking game—“my grief is deeper than your grief”—but a child? I can’t conceive the depths to which that grief would take a person.
I only had time to speak with them about five minutes each. I tried to ask them very specific questions about how they were coping, how they filled their time, what it was like to be back at work. I asked one of them if she had a favorite picture of her daughter, and she quickly pulled one up on her phone. I reciprocated by retrieving a photo of Pete that I really loved. We talked about the anxiety and stress of it all. We talked about what their children would be doing now if they had lived. We shed some tears and then laughed and talked about how nervous people get if we cry. All three of our situations are similar, yet unique.
But there was one thing in particular that I received from both of them that I had not encountered yet from anyone. A hug. Of course, I’ve been hugged many, many times since Pete died. Every one of them was needed and appreciated, and I’m ready, willing and able whenever one comes my way. But these two hugs were different. After our brief, yet meaningful conversations, as we said our goodbyes, I was embraced by both of these women. The hugs were long. We squeezed each other with an extra tightness. They screamed of sadness and love. They spoke a million words. They said, “I know you know.” I felt their impression on my skin for days—I can feel them now. The hugs told me more than I had learned in our conversations. Together we are in a fraternity.