invisible grief

I got an email today from someone who used to be one of my closest friends, asking for a favor.  “How are you?” read the email, “Settling in to your new city?”  This person called me once shortly after my brother died, and I haven’t heard from him since.  No mention or acknowledgment in this email of Alex’s death.

I spent much of the weekend with my partner’s father.  This was the first time I’ve spoken with him since I have been with my partner, and I was trying to be on my best behavior, but it was also the three-month mark; I was miserable on Saturday and began crying at one point while we were out.  Although my partner held me and much of my family together through the funeral, missing a family wedding on his side to attend the funeral on mine, not once did his father ask about my brother or express his condolences. 

I am left with two possible explanations for why people who know me in a non-professional capacity and know about my brother’s death would not mention it: (1) it doesn’t occur to them as a relevant issue or (2) the more charitable explanation, they are loathe to bring it up and remind me.  From my vantage point, both explanations are preposterous.  This is the only relevant thing in my life right now.  There is no reminding me; I don’t ever stop thinking about Alex.  It is shocking to me that outside observers could not tell that, could not see the bubble of grief I walk around in, the pain that dressed me in the morning, the sadness that I eat, or the anger that measures my steps.  But I suppose this must be the case, that my disguise is normalcy, and my functionality erases these markers from the naked eye.  And that to one who does not see me regularly, three months may seem like enough time to make normalcy actually the case.  It isn’t.

Yesterday I put one of the “Do it for Alex” pins back on my shirt, and am wearing it again today at work.  I want a tattoo — a big one, a visible one — so that people cannot forget that I carry this loss.  In the meantime, I will probably just continue to remind people (except my partner’s parents) that no, actually, I am not ok thank you, my brother is dead.

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One thought on “invisible grief

  1. Melissa McNeal

    I think it’s closer to the latter. I have a friend who lost her brother, and we have talked a great deal about how, in the weeks and months and years following his death, generally speaking, people just do not know what to say or how to say it – so they almost invariably say nothing. People are afraid of grief, and frankly, they’re also terrified to know what you’re going through… which, for some folks, probably plays some part, selfish though that is. So they just don’t say anything, either out of an effort to not upset the apple cart, or because they know that your grief is so enormous and terrible and unknowable and precious (I don’t know if “precious” is the right word… but you have paid dearly for it, this grief — it is not casual), that folks get deer-in-the-headlights, because who the @#%^ are they to say anything at all to you.

    We, as a society (maybe as humans?), are really bad at this, and I’m sorry that you have that to deal with on top of your already tremendous load.

    I know we don’t know each other. And if it’s weird to, like, publicly have this as a comment on your page, then please don’t feel like I’ll be weirded out if you don’t “accept” it, or whatever the nomenclature is. I can’t know your pain; I can get a vague sense of it because I have a little brother too — and because I know the hell that my friend crawled through when she lost her brother. And, I loved the shit out of your brother – I’m one of the legions who feel that way. And I just feel compelled to reach out and say “I hear you and I am sorry [understatement] for all of this.” You stand alone, true, in that you are his sister… but I don’t want you to feel *alone* alone. People have not forgotten, and they do not think it unimportant — they are simply terrified.

    When talking with my friend about other tragedies that have since happened (i.e. a student of ours died), she said “I don’t have the luxury of not knowing what [the student]’s family is going through.” And it *is* a luxury.

    Ugh. I’m so sorry. See, now I’ve done it: I just don’t know what to say, because nothing is adequate.

    Reply

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