Today starts a new phase in my journey as I leave the ship and over the next few days make my way back to Victoria. During the time I have been living aboard, I have kept my sad news to myself, telling only two or three people, and then only in the context of recent griefs we have in common. When people asked if I have children, I swallowed hard and said no. I know that some people aboard know what happened because of this blog and Facebook posts, but beyond that, I don’t know how widely the story spread, because I can recall only two who acknowledged it.
And now my avoidance has to stop. Everyone I am likely to see in Victoria, and later in March in San Diego, will know that I am dealing with the loss of my son. I admit that this is causing me some apprehension. I know that people who love me are grieving for me too, and I’d like our interactions to leave us better and more meaningfully connected. This morning I thought about things that people have said and done in the past, and what has or hasn’t helped. I phrase them all in the first person because mine is the only story I am sure about, but I think most of them will generalize to grieving people and their consolers, regardless of the loss.
- You won’t “make me sad” by bringing up my loss(es). I am already sad. Even when I am happy the core sadness is there. Likewise, don’t worry about “reminding me.” Trust me, I haven’t forgotten.
- My public behavior is a performance of the familiar Laurel. I’m not being falsely cheerful. I am not in denial. I’d just rather hold it together than lose it. I may not want to be unmasked at the moment, so don’t push me to reveal how I really feel if I don’t want to talk.
- One of the most painful truths is that I will not be making any new memories with Ivan. If you have a memory to share, please do so. It is the next best thing. Speak Adriano’s and Ivan’s names aloud. I love hearing them because it reminds me that even though they are gone, they are still real.
- Advice about things I could do to heal may be difficult for me to accept, and may even be counterproductive. I know it will be offered from love, but sometimes it feels as if it’s more about what would please you for me to do. I don’t have the energy to explain why some things simply are not a good fit for me, and if I am feeling weak, it may make me feel alienated and even a little angry.
- Be careful with the bromides, like “everything happens for a reason,” or “he’s in a better place.” It is only my beliefs that register with me, not yours.
- Don’t think your grief stories are evidence that you empathize. I struggle to have the energy for my own, and other people’s stories weigh me down. And besides, the truth is you don’t understand unless you have lost a child yourself. Or, in my case, both of them. And when you say you can’t imagine what I am going through, trust me that you can’t, and I don’t want you to try. Hug your own loved ones. Tell them right now that you love them. That honors my grief far better than trying to imagine yourself in my situation.
- Don’t shut me out. Don’t run away and hide. I am a walking embodiment of every parent’s worst nightmare, but I am still the flesh-and-blood person you know. Don’t treat me like a pariah. There is no perfect thing to say, and less may be more, but the best way to deal with me is to acknowledge what happened, say you are sorry and then move on with whatever has brought us together. Discuss the menu, set off on the walk, eat the gelato, get in line at the ticket booth, stop to window shop. I need grounding in the present.
- Don’t judge the way I act or decisions I made or make. You aren’t walking in my shoes, and just be grateful for that.
- And last, let me take the lead. That will help most of all. And please don’t let all this advice scare you. Read #7 again.