I’m going to preface this with something: there is empathy, which is fricking marvellous, but grief, leave it to the grieving. The ones mourning death, ultimate loss.
If your sentence says “it’s like grieving…” or “it’s like grief…” or, actually least offensive “it’s a form of grief” I can resolutely, absolutely tell you it’s not. Give the real grievers their grief and back off.
I’m also going to say I genuinely don’t judge our friendship around dick moves, because where’s the fun in that? And also, I’m not perfect and I have probably pulled off a gazillion dick moves myself. Like writing this list.
I’ve dealt with plenty of shitty, sad things. Feelings of loss. Despair. Fear. Let’s just be smart with the English language and its intricacies. Let’s allow feelings to be valid and not in some weird shit scale of oneupmanship.
I’m not being vague, there’s an article that’s doing the rounds. Has been for a while and I’ve tried to avoid it as I knew the ‘clickiness’ of the title was going to get me going. Grieving For A Child I Haven’t Lost.
I don’t want to show off here, but being in the esteemed position of having both a profoundly disabled child, who then died, This. Is. Wrong. I’m not invalidating sadness, or loss, or how hard it is coming to terms with and raising a disabled child. 5 stars on my McDonalds badge in on this, I know. So, here goes, here’s how not to be a dick.
1) Let’s start with the most obvious. “It’s like a form of grief.” Nope. “It’s like grieving.” Yeah… no. I’ve pretty much covered it off above.
Would you say to someone with no legs; “I totally feel your pain. God, I get the worst restless legs a lot of the time. It’s so painful, and annoying.” No, because it’s a dick move right? Two, similar but dissimilar problems. Incomparable.
The article, the ‘grief’ is talking about the loss of experience, an expected future. All actually a false construct based on comparison. My son wouldn’t have walked, most likely, and now he DEFINITELY won’t. See? It’s no fucking construct. He’s dead.
I had a family member, at the party we held for RD to celebrate his life with him whilst he was still actually alive, find another, related only by marriage family member and have a conversation that went “every time my husband left me I was left to grieve again. It was like grieving every time.” The person she was talking to partner had died of cancer less than 2 years before. And she knew this.
Give her her grief, her daily grief.
Otherwise where does death leave you? GriefPlus?
2) Another thing that has me chewing bricks is when people lump together all the deaths of the people they know- and I’m talking indirectly here, not for people who have lost people very close to them in succession- because I know that’s a clusterf*ck right?!- and they make it a collective sadness for them.
Sadly, last year, RD wasn’t the only disabled child to die. But I don’t want him, or the other children, to be memorialised collectively. That that somehow could make it somehow sadder for those a bit more removed. ‘All these children’. One is enough, each and every time.
3) Assumptions. This is a hard one because part of empathy involves trying to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Which you know, is a good thing. Analysing what that might feel like before judgement of actions, this is good.
However, assuming how you might feel in that situation, and applying that framework to what the other person is doing, needs to hear, wants to see? Dick move man. Whilst going through this may give me some insight into what someone else may feel like if confronted by grief, I wouldn’t try to assume our experiences are the same, or our reactions should be the same.
People in life are different, and the same applies to death.
Best thing to do is ask. It’s not comfortable, and it probably feels stupid, but as long as you can accept that a) it might not make you feel any more comfortable and b) probably isn’t the whole truth, then we’re golden.
4) Silence. Sometimes a bedfellow to assumptions: “I can’t ask them that?!”. “I don’t know what to say”
Give it a go. It’s totally better than not mentioning it at all. Own your future balls up: chances are you’re going to get it wrong, but that’s okay. I’m pretty much irrational with all this sh*t anyway, so whether or not you’ve got it wrong may or may not be grounded in objective reality.
Did you watch The Replacement or last week’s Inside No 9? Child loss even drove Will Smith crazy in that crap looking film, writing sodding letters to Helen Mirren or some shit.
5) Trying to win an argument or ‘explain’ how they feel. That victory is f*cked up and entirely unnecessary. I’ll probably apologise anyway.
I’ve basically been looking for a reason to get everyone to agree to letting me win since I was 18 months old. I know this because I see the same struggle in DD. So I’m calling this one. For now…
6) Not letting them be angry. Pretty much the same as above. But it’s getting aggrieved at anger, taking it personally.
Essentially I’d like a free license to write a frigging list about being furious at stuff, and you can’t stop me. Because really some of it’s about you, but it’s really because I’ve got nowhere to funnel this fury. So I ask you to not get snowflakey about this or over analyse.
7) Which leads to being unkind or unforgiving.
Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t beat them up. Accept that a crap thing has happened. Move forward without a grudge.
Give a hug- real or virtual. But, like feeding a gremlin after midnight, please don’t ever, ever, call me Hon.