Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Not knowing what to say

I had a lovely Zoom recently with my beloved sister-in-law.  She has terminal cancer, so naturally some of our conversation was about about how she is, how both of us are, wrapping our minds around the idea of a world without her in it.  She spoke of how difficult it has sometimes been to talk to other people about - it feels weird and sort of blunt to say it outright, but it would be foolish and forced to talk around it or use a lot of euphemisms, so here it is - about her impending death.  Too often the other person ends up making the conversation about how they are feeling, how the news has affected them, how sad and sorry they are, so that she ends up taking care of them instead of the other way around, which can be exhausting.

She knows that I understand at least some of what she's saying because I told her about a letter I wrote not too long ago to the people in my life.  I haven't sent it, and I don't exactly know how I will convey it when it becomes relevant; maybe I just needed to write it for my own sake.  It's about the, shall we say, the etiquette I would like my friends and family to follow should Sweet Hubby die before me, which I expect would knock me out of orbit for quite a long time.  The gist of the letter consists of "Don't contact me nor visit unless you know for certain that you will be able to be with me exactly as I am, with whatever depth of grief I'm experiencing.  I know you love me but please stay away if there is any chance at all that you will feel compelled to try to make me feel better or will make your visit about how bad you are feeling.  It's all right for you to bring your own feelings with you, and we can grieve together, and I'll appreciate it if you make a meal or do the laundry.  Just don't try to make me feel better, because you won't be able to.  And don't ask me to tell you what you can do, because I won't be able to."

I do understand, of course, why most if not all of us are clumsy, overly emotional, and downright stupid when we are in the presence of staggering grief, why we say empty things like "I'm sorry for your loss", "How are you?", "What can I do?", "Snap out of it." etc.  It's because we have no fucking idea what to say, no idea what to do or how to be.  We know, if we have lived any life at all, that grief must fade on its own; it absolutely can't be, shouldn't be, rushed nor crushed nor ignored nor sublimated, but must be felt in its entirety for as long as it takes.  And we know that there are occasions for grief coming our way, too.  It's inevitable.  And it's frightening.  Of course it's agonizing to see someone going through what we know we are going to have to go through ourselves and more than once.  Of course we are hoping there is something to say or do that might be healing, might make it not so bad.  But really, there probably isn't.  Or if there is, I haven't found it.


  1. Powerful & vulnerable. Love it.

    POSSIBLE WORD OMISSION: "would knock me out orbit for quite a long"
    out OF orbit?

  2. This piece is primo, Babs. It's true. We DON'T know what to do or say. Sometimes we just need to be there because there is nothing to do or say that will make the grieving person "feel better." But one thing I know from having lost my beloved sis a couple of years ago is I loved hearing people's stories about her -- things she did or said or baked, how they got to know her, how important she was to them. Some folks are afraid to mention the deceased person, worried it might upset the bereaved. But no. Not for me. For me, it showed she mattered in this world and in these people's lives and they are feeling her loss, too.

    I love the idea of the letter you wrote outlining the behavior you expect should you be grieving. People want to do something or help in some way, but again, don't know how. Such a letter presents some options.

    Sending you and your Sis-in-love great hugs. xoAnnis <3