Facebook does not often give me reason to feel grateful. Today I feel grateful because I was able to reach out, with the platform’s immediacy, to an old (but not graduated-high-school-in-1977-old) and dear friend to express my condolences after a death in her immediate family, share in her angry grief and add to the vast chorus of voices chiming in with love and respect about my own memories of the loved one my friend lost.
Though vague and hazy childhood memories, the woman my friend and her family lost is branded in my brain as a strong, hard-working, straight-talking, no-nonsense woman. I didn’t know her well, but as a part of my friend’s family, I met her many times 30 or so years ago. For me to have retained clear memories of these personality traits in her, after three decades, she must have fully and indelibly embodied these attributes and, more than that, been able to make lasting impressions on all those she met in life. Seeing all the beautiful pictures my friend posted of this woman, her family and herself, all together, I felt such sadness for them, as you do for people who have disappeared too soon, but also the bittersweet feeling of joy you feel in observing a life well and fully lived.
These things also render one a bit helpless but wanting to help, reaching out in a flailing and fumbling way but reaching out nevertheless.
Grief, perhaps unlike death, and all its forms, is tough and unpredictable. As I have written before, it is those who remain on earth and in life who struggle:
“It’s this aftermath that’s hardest to know what to do with. The people who remain: how should they move on? Should they? I mean, do you ever really move on? Are you the same person after you experience a major loss and the kind of grief it visits upon you? Of course it – death and grieving – is a part of life; do you come out the “other side” dramatically changed because, in fact, your world is changed so significantly (because of these absences/losses)? Or is grief the engine of being exactly the same person you were in a changed world (and you start to “let go” or “stop grieving” only once you start to change in facing the new reality)?”
“’Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.’” -from Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Max Porter
My friend and her family have the strength of their faith to help and guide them through and to offer some kind of reason for what they are going through. But more than that, more broadly, the more we can form a loving and supportive collective, no matter how long ago our friendships flourished or how distant we are – literally or figuratively – the more we can at least be witness to the human experience in all its nuance. I won’t say it will make things easier for those left in the wake of loss, but it never hurts to reach out and offer compassion and reassurance.