Since the beginning of the year when I decided to set some intentions for myself in 2020, I've been trying to push the boundaries of my writing. I have been writing poetry, through school, and wrote this piece I'd like to share today, in the wake of last weekend's tragedy. For a long time, I have known that I don't deal with grief and tragedies in the same way as others. It's taken me a long time to know that it's okay, and to embrace my feelings while trying to respect those of others.
I hope you enjoy my perspective in this piece.
Take a deep breath and think about what you’ve been seeing as you scroll these last few days. Has it made you sad? Likely, yes. Has there been a beautiful ode to lives taken too soon? Definitely, they’re everywhere. Have you cried, expressed condolences, reached out to those suffering loss and grieved together with your own family and friends? Maybe. I, personally, have not. In the wake of tragedies, people respond with sadness. Death. Diagnosis. Loss. Arguments. Broken relationships. Pulling too many squares of toilet paper off the roll at once. (Don’t ask me … check with my five-year-old. It was a thing, there were a lot of tears. I’m hopeful that the flashbacks stop soon.)
All kidding aside, I have always been one to handle grief and tragedies differently. I don’t always cry (insensitive), nor do I always say the “right” thing (inappropriate), or anything at all (uncaring). I have a hard time understanding the depth to which the death of someone, especially when it’s someone that I didn’t know personally, can trigger feelings from the past, emotions from dealing with a previous loss, or the simple sad fact that a person, who played a meaningful role in life will never be there again to create new memories. And because that wrenching feeling in the pit of my stomach doesn’t tear at my insides, show itself immediately through tears or anger or identify itself as grief or simply sadness, I present a rigid, cold demeanor.
Insensitive. Inappropriate. Uncaring.
But I do care. And I don’t mean to be insensitive or inappropriate. The news that someone has lost their life, whether it be through a vicious, uncontrollable disease, or an unavoidable, tragic accident, is sad to me. My heart aches for the families of the people that passed, for the people themselves and what they went through before they met their end. I know I could never imagine or pretend to know what feelings the families and friends are having as they try and understand what it means to no longer have such a beloved person next to them when they wake up in the morning, or in the stands, cheering them on, or in the car, waiting at the end of a long day at school.
So I don’t.
Because if I choose to make that story my own, even in my own mind, I’m afraid that I would break. To imagine that my partner no longer existed on this earth, that I no longer had that someone to lean on when times get tough, when the kids don’t want to cooperate or as I navigate this life I’m trying to recreate from scratch, or, worst of all, if something happened to my kids, I don’t honestly know what I would do.
That’s not entirely true. I know that I would take it one day at a time. I would scream and cry and ask why this grief has been bestowed upon us, because I know that I wouldn’t be the only one that’s suffering. But I would pick myself up and move forward, when and where I could. I like to think that I would ask for help, and take it wherever it was presented to me. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of assumptions regarding my actions–or reactions–in a given situation being placed on me. Even from myself.
I had a friend, many years ago. (I should note that I have other friends, now and since then. I’m not such a wretched person that I don’t have friends, I promise.) Looking back on why I am no longer friends with this specific person, I can attribute a lot of the reasons for the demise of our friendship to myself. I have made peace with my actions and understand that the communication that needed to be there to strengthen our bond for the long haul, was simply not present. Relationships are a two-way street. They ebb and flow and exist in a constant state of change. Both parties are responsible for their own actions, but also their reactions.
And this is where we went awry.
Simply said, we were not meant to be friends forever. She played a role in my life for a definite amount of time, and that was that. At the time our friendship was ending (over email, ugh), I defended my own actions, attempting to explain away the reasons why our friendship wasn’t working. Couldn’t she see how much I cared? Wasn’t it obvious that I wanted to be a good friend to her, I just didn’t know how? I see now that I was a very different person, naïve and young. I didn’t recognize these emotions in myself that I explained above, and it took a lot of work talking, to friends, counsellors and my husband, to accept them for the unique part that they play in the make-up of the person that I am. Instead, following the death of my friend’s grandmother, I was insensitive. I said inappropriate things, and couldn’t find a way to support my friend in the way that she needed me to, other than to send a card. It was the only thing that I knew how to do. Thank you, Hallmark.
I’m not proud of the way I acted following this loss of her close family member, or in the events that led directly to our no longer speaking, but the matter-of-fact, “everyone dies at some point” attitude that I had when trying to work through her loss and her sad feelings that were so foreign to me, lost me. I didn’t know what to say, I still don’t, really. But I have learned that listening goes a long way. (In other words, learn when to shut up.) In the work I have done on myself, I realized that this attitude I have towards death and loss was ingrained in me by my father. It’s one of the finer traits he passed on to me, along with his stubbornness, green eyes and curly hair. Nothing against any of those things, I know he’ll always be more stubborn than me. But there are reasons behind our responses to tough times. We’re all going through battles that no one else sees, we accept triggers daily for what they are and what they do to us, but we don’t always have the time to explain why we do or say what we do. Friendships aren’t always meant to last forever. Lives end. And we all deal with the emotions that show up in the wake of tragedy in the only way we know how. As ourselves. With our history, our experiences and our tendencies guiding what we say and do.
Western Red Cedar
So, to those of you that feel sadness when a celebrity dies, embrace it. Post the pictures, remember their spirit, in your own way and your own time.
If you want to run, hide and pretend that you don’t see these tragedies that the world so easily presents our fingertips with, keep scrolling. Deal with your feelings internally, privately, between yourself and your own loved ones, if you so choose.
Even if you do nothing, please don’t ignore the facts.
Accidents happen. Friendships end. People get sick.
Do what you can to make sure that the people that matter the most to you never doubt your love for them.
You don't need anyone to tell you that.
Go forward with kindness, especially in grief and tragedies,