Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Friend Grief Police

You know who they are, because they made you feel like this.

You tell them your friend died, and they probably said one of these things to you:


 “I know just how you feel. My dog died.’

 “Aren’t you over that yet?”

“You’re not crying, are you?”

“It’s not like your mother died or something.” 

“Well, they were overweight/smoked/drank/did drugs.”

Don’t you love people like that? Instead of just saying “I’m sorry”, they feel free to pass judgment – not just on how you grieve but that you grieve at all for your friend.

They are usually self-appointed, though at times will hide behind religious vestments to justify their opinions. It’s okay to be hurt and angry. They just won’t understand. Ten people in the same place at the same time will react ten different ways to any event. So it is with grief.

The grief we feel when a friend dies may take us by surprise with its intensity. We may feel guilt or regret or anger. We may feel comfort or torment in our memories. It’s when we want to share those feelings that we run into the Grief Police.

When I first started writing about grieving the death of a friend, the working title of the books was “It’s Not Like They’re Family”. That’s the response a lot of people hear when they tell someone a friend died.

What would you like to hear instead?

How about “I’m so sorry”? I mean a sincere “I’m so sorry” followed by “how can I help?”, rather than by a swift change of subject so everyone can feel happy again.

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to say the wrong thing, intentionally or otherwise? On a good day, I like to think that the Grief Police are well-meaning, but clueless. Most days, though, I just want to smack them.

So consider yourselves warned: you’re liable to meet the Grief Police when you share the news of a friend’s death.

I’ll share some thoughts on what to say in response and how to avoid joining the Grief Police in my next post. Feel free to add your own in the comments below.


Karen B. Kaplan said...

One of my very best friends died after 5 years of cancer just over a week ago. I would find it incredibly ironic if a grief policeperson were to say, "It's not like your brother died or something. He wasn't family." But emotionally speaking, he not only was like family, but more so in certain ways. I'm inventing a new category: He was somewhere between a cousin and a brother.

I face two sources of confusion at present: One is that I know a lot about the grieving process as a professional, so it's strange to observe myself going through this and that possible step in the grieving process. How do I get away from intellectualizing it? The other is that my book, a hospice chaplain memoir, is about to be published just a mere two weeks after the death. (The publisher kindly let me add an "in memoriam page during the final edits.) This is like a birth and a death juxtaposed. Well. I just wanted to say this "out loud," so thanks for "listening."

Friend Grief said...

Karen -

First, my condolences on the loss of your friend.

Just because you know a lot intellectually about grief doesn't make you immune to feeling it. Nor does it make you immune to the messiness of it. The desire to intellectualize your grief is not limited to grief professionals. Sometimes we just don't want to let ourselves feel.

Congratulations on your book, and I'm sure your friend is with you on that journey, as well.