Every day I am learning more about the constant companion grief. Sometimes there are revelations. I recently recognized that grief is like an armory, maybe even an arsenal. It can be a weapon, like a sword it can hurt and drive people away in fear. Or it can be a shield that I can wrap around me to shut the world out.
I could use it very offensively. Opportunities present itself every single day. All these harmless sounding questions that are not that harmless in the eyes of a bereaved parent. I could act on those, reach into the armory for heavy weaponry and start firing away. It is easy to make people feel uncomfortable, take their breath away, and get them to be lost for words. Sometimes it is tempting to be offensive and to share some of the raw emotions and brutality that comes with the loss of a child. A good example is if someone I do not know asks me if I have kids. These conversations always follow the same pattern. My initial answer could be yes and then I would see the eyes of the other person light up and it would lead directly into one of these next questions. How many kids do you have? I could then say two and the other person would share with me how many children they have. Gender might be another question, i.e. boy or girl and I would say we have two boys. And finally: how old are they? Now I can get the dagger out and stab them right into the chest. They both DIED. What a shift in the conversation. I have only met very few people who would not start sweating and trying to end the conversationq quickly. How would you call that? Bait and switch maybe?
In other scenarios grief can be a shield to hide behind. The normality of life is hard to deal with after losing a child. Grief provides a very valid reason to not participate in or attend events or social functions. We can minimize the likelihood of awkward situations and prevent them from developing in the first place. Instead of letting myself get into a situation in which someone could ask me about children, I can avoid any such situation all together. Defense through self-isolation I might call this. Or in a less drastic way it might be branded as “selective socializing” where we carefully pick environments and people that are considered safe.
Grief exploitation is something I don’t think would often happen in reality, but it happens on TV, e.g. in the recent Go On episode “Matchup Problems”. I really did not like the episode and I think I will even stop watching the entire show. If you are not familiar with it, it is about a support group of people, many of them have lost someone. The main character Ryan has lost his wife. Anyway, they end up in this scenario with three people on a date. Ryan has met a widow and they go to a restaurant where the widow uses her loss of her husband to manipulate the waiter to get what she wants. She basically very openly shares the news about her dead husband, deliberately starts crying and abuses the sympathy of others for her own gain. Being a TV show it was probably supposed to be funny, but it just made me think about the question if I have ever done that. And I am sure I haven’t because I would never want to abuse something so personal and the memory of our kids for such a stupid endeavor.
How about the peacekeeper version of grief, i.e. having a weapon, but not using it and instead being educational. The same question if we have children could be answered in a completely different fashion. Neither the offensive or defensive (aka. denying) way, but a less brutal transmission of the sad reality. I could say that it is a difficult question to answer for me, that we have two beautiful children, but that they have passed away.
Apparently, there are lot of things that grief can be. I have very likely only scratched the surface here. But the important thing is that I made it sound as if I can control how I want to use my grief. And this is where the problem comes in. That is not the case… Surprise, surprise. I remember the movie Forrest Gump. I always loved the scene where they sit on this bench and talk about life. “My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get”. To me grief is the same way. Maybe I can make it into Internet history by saying: “Grief is like my emotional box of responses. I never know what I am going to get”. Maybe sometime in the future my emotions might be controllable enough to really have a say in what comes out of the armory.