As I write this, eight hundred and forty days have passed since Brian, my husband of 31 years, died.
Last week was one of the most profound weeks of loss I have experienced in months.
Most notable, in addition to the many tears I shed last week.
Most notable, in addition to the deep emptiness I felt last week.
Most notable was the complete lack of support I received last week.
Should I be diagnosed with “complicated grief”? Should I be medicated?
The only diagnosis I should be labeled with is “human” — the symptoms I experienced were simply a confirmation of my humanity, after all.
It has been eight hundred and forty days. A lifetime in the world of Twitter and Facebook. An eon in a world where most people experience it in TikTok moments. An eternity in a world where people can’t recall what they devoured from their news feed a couple of 24-hour, “news” cycles ago.
Everyone has moved on.
They don’t even ask anymore.
They would be shocked to read this.
It’s not that they don’t care.
It’s that this way of living doesn’t fit in with the over-medicated, consumerist, information-stimulated world that most call home.
Over the last two years, I have had both knees replaced. People ask about my knees all the time. I can’t say whether they care or not. No, I could not say. But they ask.
I give them an answer.
Then we move on to the next subject.
It is notable that they never give advice about my knees. They just acknowledge it and move on.
This is in comparison to my grief. When people did (past tense) ask, they never just acknowledged it. They never just moved on. Advice and platitudes flowed like the water of Niagara Falls. Not a trickle. A deluge.
Now the well is dry.
Everyone has moved on.
From my grief. Not my knees.
Why can’t people treat my grief like they treat my knees?
Even the people who knew I was having a tough time this week — because I told them — failed to support me during the darkest week I have had in months.
They don’t want to go there anymore. They don’t want to hear it anymore. They don’t want to feel it anymore.
They were seemingly small things: the tractor, some photos, and musical theater. The loss of Brian washed over my soul as it did eight hundred and forty days ago. Penetrating every nook and cranny of my person.
I was soaked, drenched, drowning.
“Well, if you needed support why didn’t you just ask?” someone said to me when I told them about writing this article.
What kind of world expects people who are struggling with loss, or depression or sadness to reach out?
Oh, sorry I forgot, a world where people assume suicide hotlines are the solution for someone who is filled with so much pain that they see ending their own life as their only option.
Let’s be clear: there is no scientific evidence that suicide hotlines work, suicide rates continue to increase even though there are suicide hotlines and those who work in these services will tell you that most who call are lonely and really looking for connection.
The world does not need more suicide hotlines.
What we really need are more dogs.
Or maybe, more accurately, what we really need are for people to behave more like dogs.
These last seven days, Groot (the Black Lab) and Rocket (the Jack Russell) were so attentive. (More than their usual, clingy selves).
They knew. They just knew.
And, I didn’t have to tell them. A plea for help they didn’t need.
And, they didn’t give me some solutions. Solutions I don’t need.
And, they just offered themselves. Which is really all we can truly offer each other.
Three days have passed, and it is four in the morning as I write this important postscript. I woke up and could not go back to sleep, these words swirling around in my head as if someone had turned on the bedroom light.
I am moved by the support I have received since writing this. I am proud by the messages of validation I have received since writing this. Confirming the truth of grief is my goal in sharing my experience both here and in “Come As You Are: Meditation & Grief.”
I am grateful for two conversations I have had with friends about this writing.
“Of course people are going to ask about your knees. It’s easier.”
“It’s a live wire asking about Brian.”
These two sentences are what I woke up in the middle of the night. The answer is what has been swirling around in my head.
Because the answer is important.
Important for the person who has experienced loss.
Important for the people who are supporting those who have experienced loss.
What To Say. And. How To Say It.
The answer seems easy and simple as I write this. But I would not have found it had it not been for the two conversations I have had in the past couple of days.
Ask, “How is your grief?” Not, “How is your grieving?” And not asking about the source of the loss.
Asking about the source of the loss is the “live wire” and you could add fuel to the feelings of grief. The key is to have a conversation about the grief and not a conversation in the grief.
Asking, “How is your grieving?” could imply that there is some process to grief. There is no process. Grief, like any other emotion, just is.
Asking, “How is your grief?” opens the door for a conversation about the integration of grief. Grief, like any other emotion, comes and goes, like clouds in the sky. Grief, like any other emotion, has a range of intensity. Grief, like any other emotion, is normal.
These articles, as well as my book, “Come As You Are: Meditation & Grief,” expose the truth about grief. I am blunt. I don’t sugar-coat what I have discovered about grief and how we deal (and don’t deal) with it. Grief is too important of a topic for me to beat around the bush.
I want you to know that until Brian died and I directly experienced powerful personal grief and loss on a level that completely rocked my world, I had my head up my ass just like some of you reading this article probably do. And I was a therapist. I hurt a lot of people because I didn’t have enough self-awareness and I didn’t have enough empathy. I thoughtlessly bought into the lie that we are told about grieving.
When I wrote the book “Come As You Are: Meditation & Grief,” I thought that my understanding was complete. I was wrong. That is why I continue to share my insights in these articles. Thank you for reading this, and I invite you to learn more about what grief truly is. You can read other posts right here on Medium, and you can get my book in digital, audio, and print versions.