Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Thousand Times a Thousand Times

I recognize that look. The glassy eyes and a knowing that bad things happen, and a disbelief that everyone around you is engaged in what they are doing and interested in what they are saying and you think, "DON'T you know he's dead."

I'm speaking of course of the young adult whose brother died. We talked after I watched him go through the motions in a class. "I keep thinking I can just go home and see him." I remember that too. That every cell in your body has to be told that your loved one is dead. You tell your story a thousand times a thousand times.

You say it in words, the long version, the short version, the gentle story and raw shocking one. You write it in poetry you never knew you had in you, in essay, and letters, and emails, and forums. You tell the story in images of color and symbol, in nature of trees and birds and butterflies. You tell the story in actions through weeping, hugging, collapsing, and through fervent prayer, ritual, releasing balloons, and lighting a candle. Your entire being is immersed in this death story, this grief, this missing.

And those of us who see you looking glassy eyed and frightened must help you tell your story.

"How have you been since your brother died?"
"What did you do for Bs birthday?"
"I thought of B and you today when I was followed by a butterfly."

And then our role is to listen, not to fix, not advise, not to distract, but to be a loving receptacle of the story for the bereaved to lay another bit of their loved one gently to rest. And know the honor in that. And say, "I'm sorry."


  1. Amazing insight. It is only those who have grieved so much that know how to handle another's grief. Hugssssss.

  2. I remember the day a loved one died. I was shocked -- SHOCKED -- that the rest of the world was going on as if nothing had changed. Didn't they know? DIDN'T THEY KNOW!?

    I wanted someone to invite me to tell the story.

    Beautiful post.

  3. This post is amazing. Beautiful. It has brought me to tears.

  4. You described it perfectly...that story-telling that we do in a hundred different ways, really telling it to our unbelieving selves. "Did this really happen to us?". Your writing is so healing. Thank you so very much for putting what I feel into words.
    Hugs to you,
    Karen Johnson

  5. This feels just right, from both sides, from the need to tell to the way to listen. I am always so very grateful for people who let me tell some version of Henry's story and really listen.

  6. These are such beautiful, true words.
    Rhonda xo

  7. So very very true. I remember how much I yearned to tell Soren's story after he died and how few people really wanted to listen. But those who did listened well. It makes such a difference.

  8. What a lovely post. Thank you for this.

    (Interesting -- the word verification reads "blesseda.")

  9. I love this post. That sense that we have to keep telling the story, convincing ourselves that it's really true, convincing the world that it matters - that was one of the most unexpected parts of grief for me.