During this month of blog posts, I’d like to share with you some parts of my story and how I dealt with the pain of losing a loved one. These are excerpts from my new book, Walking in Grace with Grief Meditations for Healing After Loss.
The Dinner Party Dilemma
A few months after my son’s death, we went out to dinner with a business friend of my husband’s. As you know, when you meet people for the first time, you share information about who you are, what your life is like, your children, your job, and tidbits about life in general. This surface conversation is like going on a first date. Both people agree: let’s not get too deep, let’s not tell the full story of who we are and the pain we’re experiencing. Let’s just be “nice” and social.
Well guess what? I didn’t want to be nice and social! I wanted—no, I needed—this business friend and his wife to understand that I was in pain and walking a fine line right then. I wanted to tell my story. I was not the same person I had been. I was new and I was exploring who I was. So the innocuous bits about my hobbies and what I did with my day belonged to the “before” time and had very little relevance to who I was or what I was doing with my life. In fact, it seemed that the most important thing in my life was how I was working at keeping the grief from encompassing me. I knew that my husband had shared our story with his business friend and his wife, so I didn’t need to tell the story of loss. They knew we had experienced a death, and I expected them to acknowledge that early in our time together. But they didn’t. Never once in our hour-and-a-half dinner did either one of them ever say, “We are sorry for your loss.” Neither ever said, “We have a child of our own. We can’t imagine what you must be going through.” That’s what I needed: acknowledgment, validation, empathy. I was not prepared to share the details of my process, and I did not want to burden these new acquaintances with my pain, but I did expect some kind of acknowledgment that they knew we were going through a particularly difficult phase.
And so I pushed. I guess I got a little bit angry and found myself starting sentences with phrases like, “After Rick died …” or, “During the past few months …” I wanted to give them an opening so that their rejoinder could be as simple as, “We were so sorry to hear about the loss you suffered.” Instead, I received woefully sad faces and averted eyes. This couple was not ready to deal with anyone’s loss of a child because it hit too close to home. I’m sure they pictured themselves in my shoes and couldn’t imagine how they would deal with the death of their child. I got it. I understood. But I could not give them my compassion. Instead I gave them some uncomfortableness—on purpose. I’m not proud of that evening, but I do acknowledge the learning, on both sides.
Looking back on that night, I realize that I was not ready for new friends. I still needed the comfort of my circle of supporters who knew about my situation and who felt comfortable with my teary-ness and my silences. Now, with some distance, I am full of compassion for our dinner companions. I can see how agonizing that night was for them. I have the energy now that I didn’t have then. I extend to them my sincerest apologies for being unable to see how much pain they experienced. We all have growth periods that we endure. This was one of mine.
Do I Have One Child or Two?
As I sat at dinner that night, I kept thinking to myself, “Do I have one child now or two?” It might sound silly to those of you with more than two children, but I really didn’t know how to complete a sentence or tell a story from my past. For years I had used the phrase, “the kids,” when talking about my children. But now I had one alive and one not alive. How did I talk about those well-worn stories of my children’s growing-up years? How could I tell the tale of one child smashing the other child’s finger in the bathroom-door hinge without stumbling into the territory of death and dying? What could I say about how second children learn to take naps in odd places or in shifts? Who was I now? A mom of one or a mom of two? I struggled with this for quite a while, and sometimes I got the verbiage down, and sometimes I felt myself stumbling through a story—and I still do. Mentally I have had to rewrite the stories—all of them—to fit the new reality. Sometimes I say “my daughter,” sometimes I say “my kids,” and sometimes, when I’m feeling really centered and at peace I can even say, “Rick, my son who died.”
If this post resonated with you and you would like to read more, Walking in Grace with Grief Meditations for Healing After Loss is available on Amazon or at your local bookstore. From my heart to yours.