Connecting the recent post on what it means to me, to be a ‘Pro Griever’ we need to go back to 1997. It was Spring, and I was to attend a wedding shower of a colleague, in my home State of NY. Alexis (my Daughter) who was about 10 months old at the time was sick. She hadn’t been able to stay out of Children’s Hospital for more than a day or two without having to return. Her longest admission was 9 continuous weeks.
Disappointed, but not confused about where I was needed most, I contacted the wedding shower hostess in NY. She was a close friend of my colleague and I didn’t want to let anyone down. Least of all, Alexis. So I dialed her up and said “I’m sorry, but my Daughter is sick, I am not able to make the trip to NY for the shower.”
The fact that I felt the need to apologize, is another chat altogether. But my declaration at this juncture, was accepted by the shower hostess. She let me know that it was “disappointing” but wished me well and we ended the call.
Fast forward to December, 1997. Alexis’ Dad and I, along with one of Alexis’ former home care nurses who was a friend who’d become like a family member, went to the home of my (former) colleague for a holiday party. It was their first party as a now married couple, and one of the first social outings we’d ventured out on, since Alexis had died in September.
In a group of people, I was introduced to the woman who hosted the wedding shower earlier that Spring. When she heard my name, she said “Oh, it’s great to put a face with the name…Is your Daughter feeling better?” Time stopped for me for a few seconds. I remember noticing the 4 tier desert tray on the table white linen table cloth, which displayed different kinds of shaped and decorated tiny cookies. I wanted to be in that desert tray, and not have to respond.
“Thanks for asking. No, Alexis died in September.”
Silence. Shock. Within a second or two, I added “It’s ok, there is nothing to say here, we are ok.”
And therein lies the “Pro Griever” in me. The same one that recognized the skilled training in the gentleman at my Covid shot. The common trait in both scenarios is that when we go “pro” as grievers, it means we have so much practice and experience on how to handle a situation in which others “feel badly” that we lost someone, that we quickly move from self preservation to letting that person off the hook by saying we are “OK.”
The research on the time it takes one, to go pro, in any skill ranges from the requirement of 10,000 to 20,000 hours of practice. This is how one becomes an expert. When you find yourself applying pressure to an emotional wound you might have just opened for another person by sharing your truth, before you try to stop your own hemorrhaging, that is a sure sign, that you are a pro greiver.
In the case of the holiday party, I maintained my poker face, got a drink (instant anesthesia), and at the first opportunity of a perception that the folks who’d been present for the opening of that deep cut had moved on, I sequestered to bathroom until I could catch my breath and stop the tears.
I wish Peace to my fellow “Pro Grievers” including the gentleman who lost both of his parents last year. It is not a bad strategy to have canned answers for these situations. Having a ready response to put others at ease is a skill, and can quickly de-escalate what can become a “social” disaster.
But we should also have compassion for ourselves. This too, is an important aspect of going pro. If you are grieving, or any of this resonates with your own experience, try mustering up the courage to let your experience stand, before rushing to soothe a strangers comfort level by declaring all is “OK”. Because chances are good, it is not.
As pro grievers, we also need to hone the skill of telling the whole truth. “Here’s my story AND YES, it is so hard.”