Tertia started this thing a couple of days ago where she asked a number of bloggers who have experienced loss of some kind to talk about grieving and how to approach a grieving friend. Go read them all, I can wait.
At first I didn't think I could have anything to add. I mean every one of the guests of honor has pointed out exactly why the stupid platitudes are stupid. So why keep wasting electrons? And yet, I felt like there was something in the air, something that the loss bloggers understood instinctively, but did not articulate. Because it is so a part of who we are now, this understanding. In matters of education, concepts that are routinely not articulated because they are so much a part of the foundational understanding of the field that experts often forget that it is possible to not know or understand these concepts are said to fall into an expert blind spot. I guess I am presumptuous enough to think I can illuminate our expert (a dubious flipping distinction if I ever saw one) blind spot. So here goes.
We hear time and again that people say stupid shit because they don't know what to say. That they say stupid shit because they want to help, because they feel badly for us. Um, yes, maybe, sort of. It is my contention that stupid shit is generally about making the situation seem less sucky than it is ("at least you are young-- you can always have another" anyone? Yes, because my children are much like trading cards, and I can surely live without the damaged one). Or making it seem like it had to be this way ("it's all G-d's plan." That G-d of yours is rather a sadist, don't you think?), or that it is better that it is this way. Many other lovely sentiments have been covered by the original group of bloggers in Tertia's circle, so I will leave the recitation alone. I will sum it up by saying that I believe that people say stupid shit to make themselves, and not the grieving person, feel better. About the unfairness of the universe. About this being OK. They want it to be ok. Or they want to "fix it."
But here's the deal, here's the thing that we don't articulate enough because we know it too well. Ready? OK. Grief is what happens when nothing can be fixed. We grieve because it can no longer be fixed. Dead babies, dead husbands, dead parents, dead friends, they don't come back. And even if you have another baby, marry again, or end up with a supportive step-parent or a new close and dear friend, they, each of them, is a different person. Not the one you lost. Not a replacement. Parents of special needs children can't have back what they lost either. They build a new life, learn to set different milestones for achievement, but they can't have their ideal normal back. None of us can. This is why we grieve, because it can't be fixed. It's the forever of it that is so daunting.
So what's a friend to do? Abide with us. (I heard that word before, read it most likely, somewhere in the IF blogosphere. And then Julia Uncommon signed her email to me that way, "abiding with you," and it just summed up all the kind things she said before, helpful, thoughtful things, explained why it was easy to hear her, why it was such a relief to have someone say these things to me.) Just be with us. Don't try to fix it. Don't tell us it is not as bad as it could be. Don't tell us it's ok. It's not. This is why we grieve. And yes, I know it's hard to see us suffer. And you want to do something. Well then, Snickollet has a lovely list. The genius of it is that it doesn't minimize the forever, it is not trying to fix the thing that will never be fixed. It simply is something you can do to help your friend walk this shitty grief road (that happens to run right along the life road-- this is why this practical stuff is so great).
I've talked about this stuff before, about how we don't get into each other's faces about what or how to feel, about how we abide. So if your friends are grieving, abide with them. It's the least, and the most, you can do.