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When you're a person who is grieving loss, there are a lot of things you learn from that loss. You learn the whats and hows and whys and whens of your grief. You learn that everyone is grieving something or someone, and that grief shapes who we are and the choices we make.
But when you're a person living with really deep grief - the kind that you keep in a box that you never unpack because it's safer there - you learn more than you really want to know about other people. On the occasions that you allow that grief out of it's box or during the times that it rattles and roars to be free but you defiantly shush it instead, you learn about other people's perception of your grief.
And in turn, it teaches you a lot about yourself.
Some people will use your grieving as a reason to be thankful that they are not.
People read a blog post or hear my story and they comment with, "Thank you for sharing your story. I am going to go hug my own children tighter tonight." Sometimes, these are the same people who posted a rant about their children on Facebook that made you cry and ache so badly for your own.
Some people will make judgments about your grief.
How you are grieving, how long it is taking, how often, when, where, under what circumstance - it's all up to the scrutiny of people who think they are experts in our grief. Usually, but not always, it's those people who never ask us about that grief who seem to have the opinion. They grieved one way and it worked for them, so it should work for you.
Some people are uncomfortable with your grief.
These are the people who don't like tears, who think they have nothing to say to a grieving person, or think they need to "fix" your grief. Sometimes, they simply don't want to hear about it at all because they don't want to deal with your grief.
Some people forget that you are grieving.
For me, this is the most dangerous kind. When they don't remember Joey's birthday or crapiversary or remember me on holidays or other grief-triggering occasions, I become bitter and angry that they don't care.
Some people claim your grief as their own.
These are the people who come up out of blue and tell you a story about your loved one or something that made them think of him. They tell you they pray to him or that he is their guardian angel. And this is confusing to you.
I have been grieving long enough to make a study of how people treat my grief; and I have to admit that at first all of these situations made me angry and sad and bitter.
Maybe I'm still angry and sad and bitter; but at least now I have figured a little something out about other people.
Those people who are thankful needed that reminder. We all get caught up in the drama of our daily lives. Things are a big deal because we make them so. We often forget that, yes, life could be worse. When I tell my story, it reminds people of that. If I can help them be a more patient or loving parent, if only for a little while, I'm happy my grief has brought that; because, guess what? I need reminders, too.
Those people who judge our grief are either grappling with their own or they have no idea what true grief really is. Someone once told me that he couldn't believe I didn't cry at my own child's funeral. I don't really know him, and I certainly don't know how he deals with his emotions. At the same time, he was never with me all the times I cried over the fourteen months of surgeries and radiation and chemo and the quiet moments alone with my grief.
Those who are uncomfortable with our grief I honestly don't consider as friends. This might be kind of harsh; but loving someone is hard, especially if it means dealing with the icky parts of their lives. Fortunately, grief provides the perfect opportunity to learn who your real friends are.
The people who forget that you are grieving have their own lives that don't have anything to do with yours. And I don't mean that in a bad way. It took me so long to figure this one out. Almost all of us have a "crapiversary (a death date)" of someone we love. How in the world can we possibly remember everyone else's trigger days? Because it's important to me, I try to remember other people's crappy days - another mom who lost her child to brain cancer, a school mom who lost her husband to a heart attack, and my friends who have lost parents and loved ones. It's hard and it takes work and sometimes I forget; but it doesn't mean I don't care. Nor does it mean that other people don't care. Yes, they offer prayers and thoughts and they move on; but who am I to say that they never think of me again and offer a prayer for me when they remember? I'm not constantly praying for everyone I know, but I do when I remember. That's all any of us can expect.
Those people that claim your grief are the biggest mystery to me. Perhaps they have had a deep loss of their own. Maybe it brings out a secret fear of theirs. Maybe they are just simply good-hearted, prayerful people that God has sent to take some of our grief. I'm not sure, but it goes back to everyone dealing with grief differently. The blessing is that these are usually the people who send a text or Facebook message on those crapiversaries or on those days that you really need to hear it.
Grief is ugly and it sucks, but it is inevitable for us all. I can't claim to be grieving any more than someone else is. I can't proclaim myself "chief grieving person," because I am not.
I talk about my grief and my sweet Joey because that's how I deal with all the things that have happened and all the feels that I am feeling. But I've also learned, through those closest to me who are also grieving Joey's death, the same strategy doesn't work for everyone.
I'm constantly trying to find a reason for my grief, and maybe one of those reasons is so I can learn to be a more empathetic person. Maybe that's one way my grief can honor the son I lost.