Deathiquette VI : Is it Time?

Grief is an effective delineator. It’s harsh, and can be devastating. If you don’t want to know who your friends are, don’t let anyone close to you die.

People are not comfortable with emotion. This is not news. People want you to be fine, not because they want you to be fine, but because they don’t want to deal with you when you’re not fine. This is the same reason people don’t say anything when they cheat. Not because they don’t want to hurt you, but because they don’t want to deal with your emotions. That’s another rant.

Yep, it’s inconvenient. If you’re typically fun, creative, joking, and good at either genuinely being interested in or feigning interest in your friends’ daily lives, and keeping the focus on them, your turn toward yourself and needing to process will be too much for some people.

Talking through grief is healthy. Recalling anecdotes, describing your feelings; for many people, this is an important part of processing. It won’t be all the time, and it won’t be to all people. And you’ll learn – fast -who’s open to that, and who isn’t.

I typically don’t want to talk about it at work or if I’m focused on something else (don’t you dare deathface me). But if I bring it up, it’s because I want to share something with you. I am not prone to talking about my feelings with people I don’t trust. We might be close, or I might want to share a story with you. I don’t need you to cry, or share a story yourself if you’re not up for that. Just listen, and be willing to say “Thank you for sharing that with me.” Or share something with me, if you’re open to that.

People have been stunning about this. Amazing, frankly. Colleagues especially, but people from all realms of my life have stepped up, some completely shocking me in the best way possible, and have listened, have done that horrific hippie thing called “holding space” that sounds ridiculous until you need it. People have driven from far away to hug me. I am … humbled.

And then there are the others.

A quick text or, from some people, nothing. No acknowledgment or very little even when I told them personally, directly, to their faces, that I was deep in first circle grieving. And then, after what is considered by them to be an acceptable amount of time, a joking text. More about them. Shifting focus back or, more accurately, just carrying on with what is perceived to be a brief interruption in attention from my “normal” self. Their “enough about you, let’s talk about me… forever” is something for which I typically have a lot of bandwidth. More than I should, it seems. Delineating. And expecting people who are pretty garbage at a shift in attention focus to not on them to suddenly be capable of it when it’s desperately needed is naive.

So they wait. Many of them have never been in the first circle, so they think that 1-2 weeks is an ok amount of time, or a full month, even. It doesn’t go from “how are you feeling/doing” to the shift, it goes from complete silence to “hey, I wanted to ask you this thing about work!” or “funny story!” or “my drama!” A complete or near-complete lack of acknowledgment or willingness to deal with someone else’s feelings, to have the focus on someone else for a minute or two, and then a ping, as worthless as a Facebook “poke”, to say “we’re still friends, right? Everything’s cool, right? You over that thing yet?”

Last time I experienced grief like this was 20 years ago. It changed the landscape of my world. My life. My friendships were never the same. My priorities shifted. I was also in my early twenties, so these things were set to happen anyway. Now, I’m less angry, I know myself much better. Those priorities I set in my early twenties were absolutely the right ones for me. And I’m busy as hell. I don’t have enough time for the friends who have been present for me during this time. So, if the thought of dealing with my emotions has been too much, and you’re waiting for me to be over it, I need more time. I need a lifetime. Mine.

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