I truly hope that at some point, I can write humour again. I sincerely hope that I will be able to find enough funny within myself to express it. This blog was never meant to be a soliloquy of angst. Nor was it meant to be simply an offering of the absurd and chuckle-worthy either.
I am, however, there right now. In a place within myself that finds it hard to smile, hard to laugh, and impossible to put together a full post with the intent to amuse. It’s an alien landscape for me, someone who has oft used humour and the absurd to cope and relate. If I can beg the indulgence of those who would read this blog, I will get there again, but for now, I am using this as a not-yet-effective-but-here’s-hoping therapy.
Since my daughter died, I have experienced a range of communicated emotion from other people at a level and ferocity that I have never seen before. Tears shed on my behalf, words of comfort, hugs and kisses and hands on the shoulder. All things that I have seen, of course, all things that I have had happen before, but not anywhere approaching the deluge that walking the road of a bereaved parent has created.
Now if you will allow me a preemptive qualification of what I am about to write next; There are some to which it does not apply. To my beloved wife, to my closest of family, to those I have made family by choice instead of by birth; My Bunsos, my Pung Yau. To some who are simply my friends, and have passed by the awkwardness that comes with human interaction: Please, do not read this and feel that you create the same problems for me as to which I am about to describe. For me, your mere existence and presence transcends it all, and you are valued above all else. Each of you who read this will know if you are one of these people to me, I have already told you, or, you already would know based on our shared talks and experiences. In short, if you are worried about whether or not you are one of those people for me, you probably are, and if you have to ask, you probably are not.
now that I have that digression is out of the way;
The difficulty with the grieving and loss as experienced by the well-meaning support of so many people, is that so much of it is not helpful in the slightest. Some of it is actually painful, in its clumsy attempt to comfort. I don’t attribute any ill intent here. I am thankful for the face value affection and concern that is given to me. It is only because I have had so many people step up and simply be there for me, that I have found any will to progress in my life at all.
But we aren’t very good at this, are we? Helping the bereaved? Comforting the broken and lifting the fallen? Oh, we try. We want to be there for people, but for the most part, we haven’t the foggiest idea how to go about doing it. In my experience, there are certain categories of people and how they approach it. I fear this will be muddled and disjointed if I don’t retreat in to the laziest of exposition forms, the list.
The God Comfort
I grew up in a Judeo-Christian non-Catholic home. In other words, all the religiosity, and about 1/3rd the guilt. Suffice it to say, I know pretty clearly most of the ideas, doctrines and standard goto’s that Christians will use in times of pain and strife. And I label it as Christanese, a special language used among Christians, that is easy to accept as comforting if you are the one giving it, and has all the comfort of a burlap blanket, when you are receiving it. Saying like “God cares about what you are going through” or “just trust him” or “God has a plan.” Utterly meaningless to one who has lost. It offers no answers, and it only opens up questions as to what your concept of God is… either existent or non-existent, close or distant, caring or capricious. It can be taken to an offensive level as well, by those who challenge your doubt or anger or disillusionment as lacking in faith and being a weak Christian (if, by that point, you are even able to identify yourself as one in the first place. I can assure you that clutching the body of your only child to your chest as you scream in anguish, can all but extinguish even the faintest notion of an all powerful being.) It’s a standard refrain of those who have to justify their OWN beliefs about tragedy, by passing it on to you, and has all the benefits to the giver of feeling both righteous and comforting as they leave the bereaved in their wake.
The Everything has its reason
This one angers me. I have, in a few instances, had to bite my tongue until I think I could taste blood, when someone had the gall to tell me that there is some reason, some purpose, behind my daughter taking her own life. And when I say reason, I mean some cosmic or religious notion of reason, not the straightforward “She was incurably depressed, and decided to die” reason. Some over-arching supernatural gambit as to a purpose.
Let’s pretend for a minute that it’s even true. That her death served a greater purpose. I will never, NEVER accept this. I will never believe that any purpose, particularly one that will never be revealed to me (as that is the caveat of the “everything happens for a reason” argument, is that we won’t ever know that reason) as sufficient. My daughter died, and no reason that would remain shrouded can comfort me.
The I share your pain
Part of helping a person who is grieving, is sharing in the pain. It’s crying tears with them, it’s wishing it weren’t so, it’s being struck mute by the enormity of the situation along side the people who have lost. But those who recount tales of those THEY have lost, and state that they know what you are going through…. No. No you don’t. I’m sure your pain was horrendous. I’m sure your loss was difficult to bear. But I have yet to have someone who has lost their only child to mental illness say this to me. It’s someone who lost their grandmother, or their great-aunt. Sometimes a mom or a dad. And my mind screams in outrage while I whisper my thanks. I’ve walked behind my child’s casket. The one I could not save from the demons of her mind. You do not share my pain, you cannot. It was my only child. She suffered terribly, and then she died to escape it. How can you begin to understand? Perhaps I am being selfish in that thought… but the thought persists.
The what can I do for you
This one is the most well-intentioned of the lot, and as hypocritical as it is, sometimes is an immense help… and at other times the most useless of statements. From the right person, from those who are closest to you, it is all the world. It means they’ll take care of you when you can’t do it yourself. It means they’ll make you a meal, listen to you cry, and cry with you. It means a hug, it means a kiss, it means they are there. And for the rest, it’s utterly meaningless. What can they do? What can the mere acquaintances do for you? Because there is only one thing you could want people to do for you, and they have neither the ability nor the understanding to do it. Take away the pain. Bring her back. Give me back my life. Show me the way through this. Tell me what I’m supposed to do now. I know it’s paradoxical that it’s ok for some to say this, and others not, but logic seems to have no place in this process.
The I’m there for you
Speaking of being hypocritical, this one is worse. These words dig in to your very soul from the people who you hold dear. And they stay there, a warm core of affection and regard. And from someone who has not penetrated that circle, it is all the fluff and vapid assurance as you get from someone asking how you are doing in passing. They aren’t looking for you to say anything other than “fine, thanks.” And in the case of the person disconnected from your reality, the aren’t looking for you to take them up on the assertion of their presence. It’s more a salve to their own feelings, that they are in the presence of a broken man, than it is a genuine desire to help. (They want to help, of course, so long as it doesn’t go further than an arm’s length distance, as the relationship is in the first place.)
Loss and grief gives you much doubt. And in cases like this, it’s impossible, beyond the ones you know for certain, to know who is actually your friend, and who is tolerating your presence out of kindness at the time of your loss. We do have a fundamental distaste at being dismissive or negligent with those who are suffering. It’s more about our own consciences though, and less about the person that is enduring the pain. And when someone asserts blithely that they will be there for you, you find yourself itemizing and calculating on whether or not this is a genuine offer of friendship, or one that you should let pass as no more than a polite construct, made out of the obligations of the social contract of civility.
Sad eyes and Eggshells
All of the other methods though, aren’t as bad as this one. At least there is some effort, however misguided and clumsy, to the rest. The one that hurts the most, is the looks of pity from afar. From those who catch your eye, unintentionally of course, because eye contact would make it all the worse. And the look in their eyes is one of regret and sadness, before they turn away. Or, when they DO have to talk to you, they skirt the issue like it’s a rabid chipmunk. Like a circus freak, you are watched and analyzed and marvelled at in morbid curiosity.
They walk tenderly on eggshells, listening for the crunch, and bolt at the first sign of their footing crumbling beneath them. You are dehumanized, made in to an example of sadness, a picture of avoidable grief. You want to scream. Yell at them.
I’m still here.
I’m still human.
My daughter died, I didn’t transform in to someone else.
I won’t crumple to dust if you are near me or acknowledge what happened. Can’t you see that?
But they can’t see that. Or, choose the easier path. Or, are frightened of their own mortality in the face of someone elses. I don’t know. The reasons could be many and manifold. And it resides behind the sad eyes as they scurry away.
The fact is, from all of the “methods” there is little that truly comforts. Small points of light in an otherwise dark landscape, moribund of hope. And I have only heard or experienced a few things that have even given me pause to think that there is a way through it all.
Being treated “normally.” Being told that I’m loved. (Or, in the case of friends, the same kind of regard without the necessity of those exact words.) Genuine affection. Not batting an eye at the rapid vacillation between highs and lows, almost like a situational bipolar disorder. Real smiles, without eyes that are mourning. Genuine laughter, when laughter is possible, shared tears when they come, and quiet presence when nothing more is needed than contact.
And so far, in the realm of words spoken, only three have made any sense, even when I struggle with the potential for fatalism or despondency that could come from them:
So it goes.
In all it’s horrible truth:
So it goes.