Speaking To Those Who Grieve

Originally published March 16, 2017 on Blavity

But don’t let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Really I’m sad, oh I’m sadder than sad
You’re gone and I’m hurting so bad

—Smokey Robinson

Within my social circles, I know two other millennial women who have dealt with the loss of a romantic partner. I feel alienated because a large majority of my peers have no idea what I’m going through. Grief makes people so uncomfortable that sometimes I hide it to accommodate others. It’s like living a double life. It’s exhausting.

The formal way to express sympathy is to say, “Please accept my condolences.” That statement gives a person the choice to accept or deny, but folks want to take it to the next level. I have come to realize the skill in speaking to those who grieve. Without empathy, advice or suggestions that begin as well intentioned, become insensitive. If you don’t know what to say, simply say, “I don’t know what to say.” Not knowing what to say is better than telling me to be strong. Being strong isn’t the equivalent of feeling normal. What is normal anymore? Just because I have a decent day or post a nice photo doesn’t mean that everything is alright. It’s not. Smiles do not equate to strength.

Not knowing what to say is better than telling me how he wants me to feel. “He wants you happy.” “He wants you smiling.” “He wasn’t a sad guy.” To many, he was the vibrant life of the party; the human form of positive energy. And undeniably so. He was always dancing, singing and encouraging others enjoy life. His smile and laughter were contagious, but to me, he was even more. He represents a huge part of me that’s now missing. He challenged me to think freely and he encouraged me to love myself. He also danced with me while making me laugh. He was my truest friend, greatest love and best critic all in one beautiful package. He is the only person who could successfully talk me through the journey of grief. I know because I’ve heard him speak to people in mourning with his gentle and reassuring disposition. He never rushed through a process. He was patient.

How can I consistently remain strong or happy when a mere four months have gone by since I lost the love of my life? Four months.

On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself perplexed or even hurt by words intended as comfort.

The first came from a family member who said, “I don’t know what you’re going through, but you’re young and you will get over it. Life has just begun for you.” Get over it? Please do not diminish the severity of my pain based on my age. My life began almost 30 years ago, not last night. He is the love of my life. We met when I was 23. A deathless era. We had all the time in the world to have a family, a Christmas card and a picket fence. Time is now up. Building a foundation of that magnitude is not something that can be simply be recreated, especially when the person I planned to do it with is irreplaceable.

In February, I bumped into an acquaintance who asked me how things were going. I told her things were going okay. She replied, “Just okay? I heard about your partner, but you will be fine. At least you didn’t have kids that would have been REALLY sad.” It’s really sad now! With or without children, it’s a tragic loss. She went on to make an obscure comparison. “I felt like I was mourning when I broke up with my boyfriend.” Do not try to compare your situation to mine. I realize that breakups can be traumatizing depending on the circumstances, but trust me, it’s nothing like burying the man you love. Your man might come back, mine isn’t. We were in it for the long haul. If he returned to life tomorrow and said, “Girl, it’s over,” I would still exhale because he would be alive. He loved life.

Another popular suggestion from the masses is that I uproot my life to go somewhere else. I am not referring to travel. Travel is therapeutic. They mean leaving my home and starting fresh in a brand new place. Where’s the new gig? What’s the plan? Are you sponsoring me? Stop suggesting that I do something drastic when my life is already turned upside down. Familiarity is one of the most surefire treatments for grief. I am not ready to start anew. As I said earlier, it’s only been four months.

Out of all the exchanges, perhaps the most tormenting are those that are self-serving. Individuals who haven’t been around for years going on and on about how sad they feel. Did you sleep last night? Did you eat today? More often than not, the answer for me is no. I will not discount others’ grief because I have respect, but try thinking outside of yourself. It’s kind of like sharing a friend’s newborn photos before they get a chance to share them first. There is no way you are more excited than the new parents. Similarly, when it comes to this loss, there is no way you are sadder than me. I was the constant companion of the departed, day in and day out. There is no way you are sadder than our family and close friends. My grief is especially poignant.

And if one more person says I will find love again… What if I don’t?

“Find love” insinuates that I have to look for it. I don’t have time for that. The first time around, I didn’t go searching for love, love found us. Perhaps God gave me my one true love? If that’s the case, I can die happy knowing I am adored by someone with a tender spirit. Plus, “you will find love again,” reminds me of the slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and that’s annoying. At this point, I am only interested in finding my(new)self. I have the love I had.

Stop rushing me! Grief is like a virus. Once you get it, it never leaves. Allegedly it gets better, but honestly, I cannot imagine the day when I won’t feel hollow. Without him, I won’t get out of the sunken place. Where is Rod when I need him?

Think before you speak to those who grieve. Think about what you are suggesting. Think about your position. Consider your words. Take the time to imagine the pain, even if it is something you have never experienced. It’s easy to be a well-wisher or to offer condolences sprinkled with a tone of pity. “I can’t imagine.” If you wish to comfort someone in grief, it is essential to use your imagination, otherwise you can’t practice empathy. Empathy is a virtue.

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