Monday, November 24, 2014

The Cost of Grief

my older brother, Dennis
I have been here in Indiana for over a week. My days have been quiet, but they are about to get much busier, with family and friends taking time off work in preparation for Thanksgiving. My social calendar, which, to this point, has been fairly empty, will soon be filled with scheduled meet ups and events.

I am not sure I'm ready. I find it difficult to spend time with people, even those who know me well. Regular conversation feels pointless. It is hard to make chit-chat. I can only pretend to be light and happy for so long before I need to retreat, somewhere, in search of a bit of space.

I have spent most of my time, here, with my brother and his two little dogs. These dogs were his constant companions when he was sick three years ago, on several litres of oxygen, and unable to walk beyond a few steps, having waited almost a year for a lung transplant.  

He received that transplant on his 60th birthday. Best present, ever, the gift of life.

My brother’s son died 10 years ago, at the age of 23, so he knows a bit about this thing called grief. Christopher was a sensitive young soul who lived life to the extreme. He didn’t get to find his way through his pain or to grow out of his risky behaviour. He died before he could grow up. Our family has weathered many tragedies, but Chris’ death was, by far, the worst.

People surrounded my brother and his children at the funeral and for a few weeks afterward. Then, before long, the rest of us went back to our daily lives. I felt sad, when I thought of him, but I didn’t reach out to my brother or my niece and nephew, often. I had my own son, who was experimenting with risk, himself, and I was so afraid that it could happen to him. I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything at all.  I left them on their own to deal with the emptiness and grief.

It is strange, this living with loss. Our world has shifted on its axle, throwing everything into question, but others return to their routines and move through their days as if nothing has changed. Fortunately I have people around me who are not afraid to speak my husband’s name. They miss him, too. They recognise that five months is nothing at all in this long journey, and they allow me the time and space to grieve.

Others, though, want to avoid the subject when we meet. They ask how I am but don’t wait for the answer. They seem uncomfortable with sorrow. They deliver aphorisms of positivity and hope. Their words imply that I should smile and move on from these messy waters. They want to feel better when they look at me. They want things tidied up.

Some avoid me altogether. People I once counted as my closest friends. Some family members, too, have neglected to send me even an email of condolence.

We become pariahs. We are the harbingers of the bad news that this could happen. They could lose their partners at a moment’s notice. Their children could die. They could be plugging along, with plans and dreams, when the whole earth shifts. They could watch their husbands collapse in front of them. They could get that dreaded phone call in the middle of the night.

Who wants to come face to face with that? It makes sense that we, and the reality we represent, would be avoided at all cost.

So I forgive them, and their human frailties. I was once one of those, who avoided death, who met the pain of someone’s grief with silence. It’s not that I didn’t care. It’s that I didn’t know. It’s that I was afraid.

The loss of my love has given me an empathy that I didn’t have before. From this day forward, I vow that:

*When I see someone who has experienced a loss, I will move toward her, rather than away from her.

*I will sit with him and let him cry. I will not offer a tissue, a pat on the back, or a hug, when he is in the midst of it. I will just let him grieve.

*I will share a memory of her loved one with her.

*I will encourage her to share her own.

*I will not wait for him to tell me what he needs. I will offer something practical instead—a lift, a cooked meal, a meet up for a coffee.

*I will respect her need for space and quiet, and not take it personal if she does not return my calls.

*I will check in, by phone or text, to let him know he is in my thoughts.

*I will not tell her to be grateful for what she had, or that her loved one is in a better place, or to be strong for others. That is the last thing she needs.

*I will remember his special dates—birthdays, anniversaries, date of the death, and make a point of acknowledging it.

I will use my presence to remind them they are not alone.


  1. Im at a loss of how you write so well. I cannot express myself in the same way but when I read the posts from you and the other wonderful writers I am humbled, moved and deeply appreciative. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, RK, I am glad that my words resonate with you.

  2. Great vows! It's been almost 2.5 years since my husband died. I remember watching my sister-in-law go through her grieving when her husband died in 2004. I didn't understand the things she was doing nor did I try to understand. My husband (her younger brother) was healthy and helping her the best way he knew how.
    Fast forward to his death and I feel horrible about the things I didn't do for her when she was going through it because she has been one if my biggest helpers along this journey so I, too, vow to assist others as they grieve.

    1. I know what you are saying. I remember even when I lost my dad, I didn't think my mother's grief was any different. She had lost her partner of 41 years! Now I know and understand, and I have apologised to her, though she is gone, now, too. I am sorry that I didn't get it, before. But now I can act differently.

  3. Tricia,

    What a from the heart well thought out and written piece of work!

    You brought me to tears with this masterpiece.

    Montana hugs to all you WV writers!


  4. Michigan Hugs to all you WV writers also….this one fits so many of us…one of the hardest things in loss is losing everyone else too…I don't understand why they don't understand…but sadly they will someday!

    1. This is true, someday, they, too, will have lost.

  5. dear Tricia,

    after losing my husband 18 mos. ago, I, too, think back on all the dear ones in my life who suffered devastating losses, and feel such remorse for being so ignorant of the language of grief, the words and actions and kindnesses I wish I would have extended to them. I think you have shared your own stories with your eloquent and heartfelt thoughts and feelings so powerfully. and I will remember and act upon the vows that you have listed. thank you for being such a vital voice for WV - I always look forward to your posts. and I hope your writing is helping you, dear Tricia, as you grieve the death of your dear husband.

    much love,

    Karen xoo

    1. Thanks, Karen, I am glad that you appreciate my words. Have a peaceful Thanksgiving, if you can.

  6. It is hard when people move away from you after the death of someone close. I was angry at first, when people I thought my friends didn't say anything to me, even send a card. But after many deaths in my life, I grew more compassionate towards those that were afraid.

    Now I will always move towards the one grieving. I'm not afraid. I realize I don't have to do much, say much - just find a small way to let them know I care and honor their loss. I know, because I too have lost. That's all we can do, is be there for each other. Thank you for your wonderful sharing and writing on this blog.

  7. thank you for your comments. Although it hurts, I am trying, too, to not take it personal, when people avoid me or avoid talking about my loss, or my husband. But I talk about him, whether they like it or not. And I will always make sure I address the loss when I see someone in grief. It is the only thing I can do.

  8. you are so right about avoidance. I went to war and saw death on a mass scale. Facing Human death makes the misery and guilt of those times so vivid that I do try to avoid it. When I attend people who are actively dying, every thing within me just screams to get away