It’s been a hell of a year: Prince. Bowie. Natalie Cole. Alan Rickman. Pat Conroy. Leonard Cohen. Brian Bedford. Tammy Grimes. George Martin. Joe Garagiola. Patty Duke. Muhammad Ali. Gwen Ifill. Elie Wiesel. Gene Wilder. Edward Albee. Arnold Palmer. Robert Vaughn.
And that’s a partial list.
I feel like I’ve been in mourning since New Year’s Day, when Jo Stewart, the leader of my first writing group, died. And I guess that’s true.
The people on that list weren’t friends. I have a letter from one who I dared to thank for the wonderful memories I have of him on stage and in film. But their talent enriched all of our lives. Our world feels a little less joyful knowing their contributions have come to an end. So grieving them is necessary and appropriate.
Since I fell and broke my hand (4 fractures, 5 pins) in late October I’ve been grieving even more. I labeled my feelings “self-pity”, because it could’ve been worse. I got mad at myself for crying as I struggled to dress and shower using only my left hand (I’m right-handed). But yesterday I began to see it differently.
I’m grieving for the full stop on my new book and its Indiegogo campaign. I’m grieving the loss of income from canceling presentations. I’m grieving the inevitable spike in medical bills. I’m grieving the loss of normal independence. I’m grieving all those things and more, because even the knowledge that it could’ve been worse is no consolation.
So as I hunt and peck with my left hand, trying to ignore the pain in my right, I have to let myself grieve. I tell people all the time to let themselves grieve, but it’s advice that’s sometimes hard to take.
It’s been a tough year, even without the election. And it’s not over yet. I’ll keep hunting and pecking and missing deadlines. I’ll treasure the memories of those we’ve lost. I know I’ll be back full-force at some point.
And I’ll let myself grieve.
A couple weeks ago we considered the Grief Police. They’re the people who are more than willing to tell you how to grieve the death of your friend. In fact, they’re probably telling you that you’re making too big a deal out of it.
I asked what people want to hear when a friend dies. It’s not really that different than what anyone who’s grieving wants to hear: a simple “I’m sorry” or “I’m glad to listen if you want to talk about it.” But those comments require a certain amount of empathy, basic human compassion. And frankly, not everyone is capable of that.
So, how to respond when someone says something stupid like “it’s not like they were family”? I suppose, if you’re like me, your first reaction is to want to smack them. It might even provoke a sudden burst of tears. But in talking to people and thinking back on the times I’ve grieved a friend, I discovered that the answer is really very simple.
If we are to expect respect from others, we must give voice to that respect ourselves. How can we expect others to understand the grief we feel for our friends if we don’t express it? That means we have two very simple things to do:
First, tell your friends you love them. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable saying the L word, but do it anyway. Tell them what a difference they made/make in your life. And tell them while they’re still here, so you don’t have to add a layer of guilt onto your grief when they die.
Second, tell others that you loved your friend. When someone is dismissive of your grief, just say “They were my friend and I loved them. Why wouldn’t I grieve?” If they’re stupid enough to persist with comparisons of those they deem more worthy of your grief, stop them with “I love a lot of people, and many of them are friends.”
The size of our family may be limited; our circle of friends is not. But the loss of one is still deeply felt. And deserves every tear we shed.