Some things I’ve learned lately about the whole grief thing

  1. People who are grieving/bereaved are not a separate species apart from the rest of humanity. We’re just like you. We were ourselves before the tragedy happened, and we’re still ourselves, if really shaken up. Live long enough, and you’ll join our ranks.
  2. Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” — Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum
  3. Equating the death of your cat or your dog with the death of your sister, or your son, or your wife, or your mother, is not accurate and is insulting to the memory of your dead human loved ones. A “fur baby” is not the same as the blood of your blood. Sorry about that. Dogs and cats have shorter lifetimes than humans. If your dog or cat dies, as it will, you will go to the pet store or an animal shelter and get a new one. You can’t replace your wife or your mother or your son. I’m sorry your cat died, but hey: IT’S A CAT. Don’t pretend it’s a moral equivalent.
  4. Planting a tree in Israel, or Paramus or Pflugerville, doesn’t do much for me. I don’t want another tree. Nice thought, but I’d like my wife back, thanks very much. If I can’t have that, I much prefer a plaque on a park bench to having to visit a cemetery. I like the feeling of life going on around me, really, I do.
  5. On the same thread of less-than-useful advice to the grieving is to “get a dog or a cat.” Donna would find the idea that she could be replaced by a pet to be highly insulting and absurd, and she’d be very right. I already have a dog and that’s nice, but it doesn’t do much for me.
  6. Some already-widowed folks will pounce on you almost gleefully, offering sentiments like, “Life will be hard for quite some time,” or “Things will be very difficult for you now.” Yes, I know. You’re not really helping.
  7. Thanks for the casseroles, but what I could really use is my carpet shampooed about three months in.
  8. We actually like it when you talk about our dearly departed, especially if you knew him/her. Don’t pretend they never existed. What we really want is independent third-party confirmation that their memory will live on.
  9. Check in on us after three, four, five, six months. The rest of the world may have put that one particular death behind us. I and the other widowfolk I know can assure you: we haven’t.
  10. One of the hardest things will always be telling people who haven’t heard what happened. For a few moments, it makes the horror all new again.
  11. There is a serious dearth of good music available to the grieving. We all have our individual choices, but me, I eschew country-music death schmaltz in favor of, say, something like this. See #1.
  12. All things being equal, telling the grieving person you know how they feel because your favorite character on Game of Thrones was just killed off is probably not a good idea.

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