No one understands unless they’ve gone through the same thing.
They may think that they do, but they don’t.
They may admit that they don’t have a clue, and they’re right.
Because you can’t understand unless you’ve gone through the same thing.
-Gone Through the Same Thing, poem #60
The 11 years since my dad’s death have been filled with conversations with other bereaved individuals. If there’s one thing I think we can all agree on it is this: unless you’ve gone through it, you don’t “get it.” That is, no matter how well intentioned a person may be, he or she simply cannot understand the grief that accompanies the loss of someone immediately close to them – someone who was a part of their regular, everyday life. Why? There is no way to wrap your mind around what it truly means to never see a person you love again.
Yet even though most in my life couldn’t “get it” at the time of my loss, there were certain individuals who were more or less supportive than others.
Years later, I realized that, ultimately, it came down to empathy. Some in my life possessed that capacity to recognize the diversity of emotions, pain and emptiness I felt. A select few were able to braid this empathy with compassion. And even fewer were able to sustain this empathy over time – long past the expiration date that others in my life had stamped on my grief.
Then there were those who made “The Comments.” Unfortunately, these comments are the ones that will forever be vividly etched in my mind.
“Why aren’t you crying?” my classmate asked during art class just nine days after his death. “If my dad died, I’d be crying. I love my dad.”
I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach.
Could she be right? Was I grieving the wrong way? Do I have tears left to cry? God, please don’t let me start crying again – if I start, I’m afraid I won’t stop.
“You only got the part [in the school play] because all the teachers feel sorry for you,” another classmate said less than one month later.
Yes, gather ’round friends. Don’t you see the neon sign hanging above my head –the one that says “GIRL WHOSE DAD DIED”? That’s probably the only reason I was given the task of reciting Mesopotamian history at 100 words per minute. It’s definitely not because I’m naturally a fast talker. But hey, I’m glad that you are jealous of me…because I’d rather my dad be alive than get this stupid part any day.
“You can’t keep using this [being upset about my dad’s death] as an excuse forever,” said a friend several years after my dad’s death after inquiring about why I was upset.
I didn’t realize I was using it as an excuse. I also did not realize that you are an expert on when it’s no longer acceptable to love and miss the person who died.
The list – full of get over it‘s and move on‘s – goes on and on…and on.
There are also those who, upon learning that my dad is dead, immediately ask “how long has it been?” I’ve lost track of the audible sighs that are released when I respond with “X years” (because “year” was plural).
Well-meaning adults typically follow this inquiry with some version of, “And your mom? How is she doing? Dating anyone?” It’s as if her relationship status is the barometer for how well our family is doing. If I respond with yes, their mental exhale of relief is tangible, because somewhere down society’s pipeline, validation that the surviving spouse is happy/happier became equated with “Phew. They’ve moved on.”