People Say The Darnedest Things

So there you are, sitting in the middle of the most mind-shattering confusion you’ve ever faced, wondering what the hell just happened, and trying to figure out what to do next. And somehow, through this intense fog that has filled your mind, you notice people talking to you, saying things that don’t make a lot of sense. Part of you wishes they would just shut up and go away. Part of you wishes they could just say the right thing to fix it all for you. And a small part of you actually tries to laugh at some of the super-crazy that comes at you when crazy has become your norm.

People want to help. They truly, honestly, want to help you. But except for the rare insightful empath who’s been through something very similar to what you’re going through now, everyone else will likely get it not quite right. Probably even wrong. Often, ridiculously wrong.

I had a gentleman approach me during our visitation and found myself consoling him as he described in great detail exactly how terribly broken his wife was over my husband’s death, certain that she would never feel that way about him. Not once in the 23 years I spent with my husband had I ever doubted his fidelity; in fact, I had the dubious advantage of unexpected access to every nook and cranny of his personal life after he passed. I, therefore, had no idea how to connect with this poor guy – my spouse’s world revolved around me. His spouse’s world, apparently revolved around my husband. Of course, the ideal time to have that conversation is in the visitation line at the funeral home while hundreds of people wait patiently in line to speak to me.

Anyway, the point is, everyone wants to say something. Everyone wants to say something meaningful. Most will fall short.

As will your responses. People say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” We respond with, “Thank you.” I’ve found it to be one of the most ridiculous conversations I’ve ever had. And this one’s on permanent replay.

Instead, though, what I try to do, what I try to make time for, is a real conversation. I don’t care if I’m at the gas station, the kids’ badminton tournament, a public bathroom; if someone expresses their condolences, I try to engage them.

“I’m so sorry for your loss. How are you doing?” With the cascade of pity through the ‘doing.’

I deflect quite artistically now, a simple nod to acknowledge the sentiment, and the kind heart behind it, and respond by asking about their grief, their journey, their memories.

It’s an entirely different experience to tap into someone else’s grief over your loss. But it accomplishes two very gratifying advantages.

First, it lets you remember your love in a way you didn’t have access to before. You may learn something new about them. You may be able to connect this person’s event to something that you remember. You will create a new memory of your loved one, even after they’re gone.

And secondly, it lets you remember without crushing you in public. By reliving the other person’s memory with them, you are one step removed from it, and can still go there, usually with a little more composure than your own vault of painful stories allows. Add to that the fact that you end up supporting this person through their grief, and, while it’s likely not as all-consuming as yours, it is very real to them. And that connection brings the two of you closer in the name of your loss. Something good from the bad.

No matter what people say to you, do try to remember that they mean well. And the ones that don’t get it right, and better yet, the ones who get it terribly wrong, will make for entertaining memories one day, when you’re ready.

Alex, What Are You Trying To Say?

A Road To Joy is out with an editor right now. I’m hoping to have a copy in my hand before I head to the Yukon in June. The wait is killing me!!!

I wrote the novel after several attempts to somehow tell the story of my own grief after the sudden passing of my husband, Paul. I’m not bad at writing emotion; but have never been able to tap into the deepest of my own feelings about my experiences. So there were several failed attempts.

This book is actually a combination of three of those failures. I had started what I expected to be a comedy about a mom who’s just had it and runs away from home. Because what mom hasn’t thought about that? But I also had a chronological accounting of my ordeal: something even I didn’t want to read. And then there was the crap attempt at tackling the whole thing from the points of view of me and each of my kids. Blech.

But still, a story was nagging at me. For more than two years, something kept bringing me back to the need to share it.

I finally realized, at four o’clock in the morning when all of my best ideas come, that I should give the Comedy Mom my story. She’s running away from home. Because she has five kids and her husband died. At the time, I truly believed I could make that funny.

What followed was six months of the most intense emotional writing I have ever done. And a story that I feel speaks to anyone who has ever experienced a loss that has ripped their life apart. Whether through death, divorce, change, or illness, loss of what we thought our life was going to be, loss of future, of plans, of self is the most devastating trauma we can face. I would go so far as to say that it doesn’t matter so much what or who you lost, as much as how much that loss knocks you flat.

When you are suddenly faced with a life that leaves you without the will to go on, without a reason to go on, without an expectation that things could ever get better, the English language fails us completely in its inability to describe that level of torture.

I did my best to change that.

I gave this mom my circumstances, widowed, mother of five, lost, angry, hopeless, and put her in her van. Then I let her tell her own story.

There were times she reached deep into my heart, ripped out parts of my own story and used them as hers, tearing me apart in the process. There were times she told of experiences in her own past, of her family, of her grief that I had no idea even existed. She made me laugh out loud; she did turn out to be quite funny. And she brought me to my knees, over, and over again.

I learned so much about her. I had no idea she was so angry. I didn’t know that she was so desperate. I didn’t expect her to be so lost. But as I got to know her, I began to realize that I was angry, too. And I was desperate. And lost. Only I hadn’t known it while I was in the middle of it. Much as I hadn’t planned any of that in the story.

In writing the story, I was able to recognize my own grief, to see my own journey for the triumph is actually was. I was able to see myself for the strong, resilient, amazing woman I am, and have been as I led my family back into the light.

And now, it is my deepest wish that, in reading the story, that you are able, too, to see some of yourself in her; she could be you. That you can discover your own strength, find your own purpose, and build your own hope.

If you are here now, I want you to know that I’ve been there: lost, alone, finished. I’ve come through the other side. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was hard as hell. But I’ve done it. And I’m strong enough and awake enough now, to want to reach out to help you discover the most surprising thing I’ve learned these past few years.

And that is, if things have to be the way they are, and you know they do, then it is actually possible to turn the worst thing that ever happened to you into the best thing that ever happened to you.

Join me. Talk to me. We are strong. We are infinitely stronger together. We got this.