It’s as if someone is insinuating that the good that follows the horrible somehow shaves what I’ll call, trauma points, off the pain I felt (and still feel). I realize that’s not what they mean, but that’s how it feels to me. I’ve heard this said so many times I can’t count them all. Whether it’s a widow who reaches out to another widow, or a sexual assault victim advocating for change in society. If it’s a person who becomes a doctor to heal a disease that took someone they loved – the good they do – doesn’t undo the pain that they carry. And it seems like society is on this eternal quest to make the ‘scales of our lives’ come out even. I understand this, we hate pain. We hate seeing people suffer, especially when we love them. But it’s been my experience that that kind of thinking actually intensifies the wound that never heals. The agony softens but it never goes away, and I think what those of us on this side of loss, of trauma and of a wounding that is not ever quashed, want people to know, is that what you meant to help or encourage me, might actually hurt me more.
As I’ve shared in other posts, I can only speak to that which I’ve experienced and what I’ve heard from other people. So while I share the following, know, that not everyone will agree with me, but for the sake of those is does bother, I feel it deserves some attention, and if for no other reason, it might get people to talking – and even more importantly – listening to what those grieving DO need and want.
What I would rather here is something like this.
“Berkley, I’m so sorry for all you’ve lost and endured, and for the pain you still experience that I’m not even aware of. Yet, I’m so glad to see you using your pain to help others navigate their grief journey. I’m glad to see you take something that could have easily destroyed you, and to turn that anger, that fear and that dismantling of your heart, into something that helps others. I know nothing will ever change how you felt. Nothing will ever make Greg and Don’s death anything but sorrowful. I want you to know that I’m NOT saying that you moving forward, you being positive about your future, you reaching out – nothing you ever do or will be, will undo what was done to your heart when they died. And I hope you NEVER hear me say that those horrible events happened so that this new “good” thing could exist. What I want you to hear is that I’m proud of you for not letting this trauma be your undoing. That you have pressed on, you have leaned into God. You have taken your pain and used it to be a light in the midst of other’s darkness. But what happened – what has transpired – and what that has done to you and how it has forever changed you – will never ever be ok to me or to God. It will always be sad, horrible, untimely and wretched!”
I want people to know that my life and emotions aren’t morphed into a scale that can be balanced. If there is some sort of ‘life scale’, the side loss is placed on will always tip on the terrible side. Regardless of how many beautiful things occur in my life, and are placed on the other side of the scale, it won’t move that ‘death side’ off the floor.
In reality – life isn’t actually a set of scales, it’s a timeline. Events in our life happen. They simply “are”. They exist. They are occurrences that have become a part of the tapestry of my life, and that tapestry is woven together with the threads of my triumphs, my failures, my sorrows, my delights, and my traumas. Every joy and pain are interlaced and they overlap. And when something lovely occurs I do not remove the threads born of my pain and suffering. Instead, I simply continue weaving the threads of joy and hope in. They co-exist. ALL those threads make up the tapestry of me.
To borrow from Dolly Parton, let’s call this tapestry my coat of many colors, and it is sewn of pain, beauty, sorrow, disappointment, elation, tears of grief and tears of joy. Every moment of my life exists in this coat and I wear it everywhere I go. The good, the bad, the horrible and every exquisite thing that came before, and after the loss of my person, are the experiences that become the threads my coat are created with.
Every big life moment is absent of my lost loved ones physical presence – and that pain sears my heart – regardless of how long ago they passed away. It is still there the day my daughter gets married. It was there when I learned my son was having a baby, it was there the day she was born. It was there the day my daughter told me she was pregnant and it will be there when my second granddaughter enters the world. It’s there on every birthday my kids have. When my kids get a promotion or new job, their dad isn’t alive to share that joy with. When they have a problem, he would answer better than me, that reminder is there. And all the good things I’ve done, all the people I’ve helped, and all the smiles and laughter I’ve let cross my mouth, do not negate the heartache I feel in each of those life moments. Because in each of those moments, my kid’s dad is not there. The man I planned to enjoy all those moments with is gone. And there is a lamenting that mixes with the extreme jubilation I feel and it is truly the essence of bittersweet. These two conflicting emotions exist within my heart at the same time. They jockey for space and acknowledgment. But one doesn’t matter more than the other. They both belong. They are both a truth on those days. But NEVER, is one less important or more real than the other. And nothing will ever make my losses anything but terrible, wrong and totally shitty.
So, for anyone to try to lessen their impact on my life, is to minimize the great struggle I’ve overcome (and will continue to fight against for the entirety of my life on earth). Instead of trying to find the silver cloud, it means a great deal to me when another person understands and validates this painful truth in my life. Regardless of whether it make sense to them or not. Yes, life does go on and we will shine again. But no matter how brightly we sparkle; it will NEVER blot out the darkness that we experienced. And to try to insinuate that my “good” neutralizes or prevails over my trauma – is to not really understand me or what I’ve pushed through to get where I am today. Because, honestly, I’m where I am today BECAUSE of those traumas.
To bring this full circle, what I’m trying to say is that I appreciate you noticing that this enormous loss hasn’t left me continually broken to the naked eye, and I very much appreciate your encouragement and words of affirmation regarding the ways I’m trying to give back. But what I need you to understand is that for me – nothing good is coming ‘out’ of my loss. My truth is that something good is occurring IN SPITE of my great loss. I hope you see the difference.
Those of us wounded by death, know you don’t mean to be hurtful, but wouldn’t it be better if we could be learners of how to help those grieving, instead of tossing out verbal land mines that they must try to navigate around? I believe it’s time that society takes the initiative to learn what is helpful to those they encounter who have lived through the unthinkable, instead of expecting the grieving to carry one more burden – regardless of how well intentioned it was.
As I close, I’m praying this speaks as I’m hoping it does. My “passion” is to educate those who have not walked a grief journey (yet) as to how their well-intentioned words can actually pierce hearts instead of inflate them.
Of course, we all have the responsibility to be kind to others, so regardless of which side of the conversation you find yourself on, I pray you will be soft in your interactions. But also, be aware that there tends to be this deep anger that sits far below the surface for many of us on the side of loss, and often we don’t even know it’s there until someone says something that sets it ablaze. So, if you’ve gotten burned by a flash fire from one grieving, know they were probably as caught off guard as you were. (I’ll cover that subject in another blog post) Until then – be kind, love well and don’t be afraid to lovingly speak your truth to those around you. People aren’t mind readers and you are already carrying a huge burden, so why not help them help you – after all, that is what they are really trying to do.
From my broken and re-assembled heart to yours,