Friday, October 09, 2009

Three Kinds of People

"There are three kinds of people", I commented to my hairdresser yesterday as we discussed the precious brother she lost to heart failure 17 years ago ("my mother still wakes up with sadness in her heart every day...none of us is the same")

Type I: The Clueless:
These are the majority actually, consisting mostly of those of us who have never experienced the searing loss of someone necessary to our existence. This is the pitfall of the young, who have still so little life experience that they just don't know. But it's hard to bear when it's someone who is older and should know better. When I tell them about my son, they give absolutely no response. Nada. They continue the conversation as if they never heard what I said. Or they change the subject and begin talking about something else, or themselves. Or the worst: they make a joke about something and laugh. (Yes, this has happened maybe three times, the most recent being last Sunday, which actually triggered the writing of this post. It is a kick to the gut.)

Type II: Fellow Grievers:
Like my hairdresser said, once people have been to the Shadowlands of Loss, they are never the same. They have instant recognition for others who are there. They put a hand on your shoulder, they look you in the eye with sympathy and interest, and they ask what happened. They care and they share their story, they tell you how tough it is, and they hug you. If you see them more than once, the topic is open, and becomes an ongoing conversation. Even if they see you infrequently, they always acknowledge, in some way, what you are going through.

Type III: The Trained:
This category often includes counselors, pastors, and people with good manners, but sadly there are no guarantees on that. It should include everyone. These dear people have been taught to acknowledge grief, and they DO it. They've been told that it's enough to say, "I'm so sorry for your loss", and they say it. God bless them for simply not ignoring the obvious. (It's also helpful if they don't add, "Well, he's in Heaven now.", cuz honestly, we've thought of that, and it doesn't help with the gaping empty void left behind.)

There may be a Type IV--those so buried under the weight of personal grief, that they have very little to give, sometimes unable to even acknowledge your grief. This we understand.

I will admit that I have been in all four categories, and I'm not proud of having been clueless. It pains me now to remember those moments. Hopefully this is an education for somebody, and it will spare them from regret, and the suffering ones around them, from additional pain.

Romans 12:15
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.


Liza's Eyeview said...

Karen, a well thought post, and something that comes from a grieving heart.

A couple of line struck me though which I would want to gently explain coming from the other side. It's when you said in parenthesis (It's also helpful if they don't add, "Well, he's in Heaven now.", cuz honestly, we've thought of that, and it doesn't help with the gaping empty void left behind.).

I would put a subcategory on people saying that comment: 1) There are those who says that to just shut you down and say "enough already" 2) But there are those who says that because they don't know what to say and they think they are encouraging you by saying that. I would venture to say that most of your friends fall on the second category.

Most of the people around a grieving person are just not sure what to say to the grieving ones. And that's why I think this blog is a ministry. Most grievers grieve in quiet, secretly. You are among the braver ones that allows others to know about your deep sadness. You are courageous to let yourself be vulnerable by expressing your grief in a blog. Not many people can do that, for the very reason that they are afraid others might think they are grieving way too long.

I know that at one time you have posted something about how to respond to someone grieving. I suggest you link that to this post. It would be very helpful to those who will come across this post and truly want to know how to respond.


Anonymous said...

This post was a right on for me. I know about all four as well and there are times I don't really care
if that is where I am at. I can't even think of a thing to add. I am so sorry, I truly am. The loss
seems so great at times I dare even
know how to act. That is a good word, as acting is what I feel. Even puppetlike with strins attached with someone else in charge. I seem to only lean on what Jesus means to me. I have the child song which says,"Yes, Jesus love me, the bible tells me
so. You have a God filled day!
Love Sharon

Gannet Girl said...

I love the "Yeah, we've thought of that; doesn't help."

I think people are so terrified of the possibility that nothing helps and that they, too, will have to learn that someday, that they just blather on. And I don't mean that unkindly. I think clueless is a category with a very large population.

And I think your first commenter is right; people want to be encouraging, and do not realize that there is a time not to be encouraged.

Anonymous said...

Love this post Karen!
It's hard to teach simple etiquette to Type 1. The chasm is too great between the two, Types 1 and Type 11 simply exist because of the tremendous, painful loss experienced. The Type 11 are now part of the secret society (You are helping it not be so secret). That's okay...I love all the Types but I share a richer, deeper, love relationship and connection with those that have been hit hard from life, taking the very breath, heart and soul out of them.
Love you,

karen gerstenberger said...

Thank you for this. It's true. I've been all of those people, too. God bless you!

flowergardengirl said...

I'm not sure what category I fall in except to say that I've never lost a child. I think that puts you in a category all by itself where no one relates well except those who have been through it.

I have lost the generation above me but that was something you prepare for all through life. i lost a brother and that was truly a shock. He had brain cancer and it was awful for 2 years. I took care of my mom for something like 18 and didn't know how to quit the caretaker role when she passed.

I couldn't even let the body leave the morgue. I felt so responsible yet I couldn't do anymore. I had been use to making it all ok and now I couldn't make it ok. I can still feel that same burden---but I have a different love for my children and what you all went through just pains me to think about. I'm so sorry.

I had to go back and teach school a week after my mom died and it was just going through the motions and pretending for my students. It was hard. It lasted 5 years. I had to take medicine to get through it. So I'm just about the most sympathetic person out there---but I know that everyones pain is so individual too. You all react differently and none of it wrong. It just is.

Grief forever changes you at every stage. Big hugs to Karen and all of you--really.

Anonymous said...

Hey Flowergardengirl.
I think losing a child must be the hardest loss in this life to be experienced. I have two kids and I don't even want to go there.
I lost a sister I loved dearly.
I'm so sorry for your loss. I had to go back to work a week later in a state of shock and no one got it.
Join the secret society!
Much comfort to you. You're not alone.

Anonymous said...

I have said this before, and I know it to be true, that no matter if you are a christian or not the emotions of loosing a loved one or someone dear to you does not remove the sometimes gut wrinching pain of missing them. Missing the memories, nor the person they were or the person that may have helped impacted your life to make you who you have become today.
I have experienced death and the sadness that comes along side of it since I was young. Even though we know where we will be someday, and that we will be at the feet of Jesus, and oh yes that are loved one's are already there experiencing this anointed time with our Savior, it isn't a sure cure to erase the pain and sadness that is in our utmost being. Once you have dealt with the loss of someone so dear, the reality of it is that we are human. We are flesh and blood. We are who God made us to be on this earth, people with feeling's and emotion's. We cannot escape that. Sure we have the Lord to help us over come those thing's that interfere with our well being, but we will forever have those emotion's. They are neither right nor wrong they just are. It is o.k., our Father knows that this is our human make up. I have experienced death since I was 10 years old, to a Grandfather that was so dear, and the passing of other's in my life since. I lost my best girlfriend a year and a half ago, and even though I know that her body is healed, and she is there with Our God, praising Him, and rejoicing, the grief does not leave. I weep from time to time, or find myself all of the sudden with memories that ingulf me, overcoming me with this sadness and missing her so very much. With the passing of someone that is so dear to you the pain of missing them does not pass. I know that I will for the rest of my life have an empty feeling in me because of the impact she made in my life, the sister she became to me. Family members do not understand the emotion's that are there. But I know it is o.k. to have them, and God does not mind because He knows that we will have grief here on this earth that will never pass. I know that God is right along side of me, that His shoulder is there to lean on, He is the one that I turn to when I am saddened and He helps me along the way, and never makes me feel as though it is wrong for me to feel like this. The emotions, grief, and all that goes with it I know is just a seasoning time for my life. Just like when you cook a steak, if you do not season it, it will not have much flavor, God season's our life to enhance us. So that we may become the people we are meant to be because He has taken the time to season us so that we may become more flavorful for Him. And during these time's of seasoning when we do not understand it and it is painful and sometimes too much to bear, God sees the big picture of our lives and how beautiful it is and the beauty that will come from all of His seasonings. The seasonings He is using to make us flavorful are God's perfect blend. Much love to you all---E. Wark