After the barrage of federal and religious holidays plaguing the fall and winter seasons, many of us dealing with grief are wiped out. So, as I have fended off yet another Christmas mall elf and set my kinara, I've decided next year I will choose to grieve better. What follows is a list of rules for grievers and those looking to be supportive. This is merely a collection of things I've learned after grieving in ways that were far too apologetic. I'm done with that. Maybe, you are too.
Rules for Grievers:
1. You're crazy... so what? Even if you are undeniably crazy (which any sane person would be), you have a right not to be around people who make you feel that way. Tell 'em to get lost.
2. You will get let down. It will be purely unintentional, but most of the folks we love and care about, aren't great at talking about pain. We don't live in that kind of world. Prepare yourself by knowing, your biggest supports may come from the unlikeliest of places.
3. Sometimes you will cry in public places. Screw all those people that tell you to wrap that stuff up. You're human and something important just changed your life.
4. Being alive is sometimes painful, not comforting. Promise yourself to live long enough to see a time when you can truly experience joy.
Rules for Supporters:
1. Text messages don't show care. They show you have a working cell phone plan. Texts are better than nothing... but not by much. It can sometimes feel antagonistic, as in, "Do I have to fit the complicated feelings of my trauma into the confines of your Android screen?"
2. You have the capacity to be an amazing person; you do not have the capacity to be an expert on someone else's pain. You're going to say, "But J Mase, I've been through X, Y, Z." Okay, if that's the case, grab yourself a cookie. But, do not be so wrapped in your own survival needs that you mistake the experiences of others for your own. We all have a different process.
3. Therapy doesn't get you off the hook. When my father died, lots of very well-meaning people suggested I seek a therapist. The first person seemed concerned, the 500th got my wrath. Of course I thought about therapy, but finding the right therapist often takes time and is not an overnight cure all. If ever I seemed emotional or "too sad," the "get therapy" line was something friends would retreat to if listening was hard and they couldn't deal with my emotions. We all get it. The sad friend isn't exactly the life of the party. But that kind of approach can make someone feel as if you are pawning them off to the professionals when being a friend starts to feel like too much work. Genuine friendships do take work. If/when someone experiencing grief or trauma is able to or decides to seek mental health care, they will still need friends. They will not magically be healed at dawn -- and your willingness to listen shouldn't be dependent on whether or not they have done what YOU deem to be necessary for their healing.
4. Be sincere about what you can offer. Grief made my memory sharp. I mean, I can remember what you had for lunch seven months ago type of sharp. So, when folks said, "Tell me if you need anything," while I was grasping at the straws of my sanity, I remembered that. If you don't mean "anything," don't say it. Be honest about what you can do. If you can only provide a phone call every now and again, say that. If you can make dinner a few times say that. The worst thing you can do, is promise something and not deliver to someone who feels like they've lost everything. (Even if you think you know better.) If you mess up or can't fulfill a promise, make sure you acknowledge it and be more realistic about what you can actually accomplish. Sorry, is also a hugely important word.
5. Being alive isn't always a sign of resilience. It just means you haven't died yet. We are talking about grief here. I often find that a common sentiment folks want to offer is, "Well at least you're alive." But when you are grieving, being alive hurts. Existing hurts. Most of us expect this feeling is temporary, so we find ways to push through. When someone/something/some-experience you love more than anything else has died, you often can't see the brilliance of being alive. Instead of offering a phrase lost on the hurting, think about ways to encourage small steps of joy. Maybe a movie. Maybe a call. Maybe just saying I love you.
6. Stand strong. Grieving means I may not always be as patient or giving as I was before dealing with major loss. For you, as a potential support, observing an individual's grief may be a once a week experience. For the bereaved, every interaction may be a question of survival and reliving that situation. People will have promised all kinds of support, and many won't follow through. So, if someone lashes out at you, it may be that they are tired -- tired of being let down. It may have nothing to do with you. It can be hard to have hope in others, if most of them are not sticking around. If you are able, be someone who does.
Check out J Mase III's forthcoming chapbook And Then I Got Fired: One Transqueer's Reflections on Grief, Unemployment & Inappropriate Jokes About Death.
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