Saturday, December 24, 2011

Open Letter to a Grieving Friend

December 24, 2011

Erin's First Christmas Eve--14 Years Ago

I have a friend who has suffered some gut-wrenching losses.  She's pretty far from friends and family and pulling the oars towards finishing her dissertation.  There are so many people I know who can identify with her words to me:    "so, this death thing seems to get worse, or at least it has for me. I guess it was the whole shock thing that has made this last longer? or does it just get harder the longer they are gone? I'm finding it absolutely ridiculous . . ." and so on.  
Many of you know these words and all the verses that follow after.  Here's my current thinking on that topic and what I wrote her [with a couple of corrections and grammar fixes]:

"Dear Friend,

I'm pretty sure I'm not an expert here, but since you asked:

I think the whole living on after your Rock of Gibraltar dies is a pretty sketchy process, and I really think you need to find more ways to be gentle with yourself.  Consider how tough what you are experiencing really is:

You have lost part of your self, all the shared memories and specialness.  It is not particularly fulfilling to try to describe those things to others, because it makes what you are talking about feel so light weight and inconsequential.  Then it makes you mad or sad that that person can't really know what you are talking about, describing, trying to express.  They can't know the person.  There aren't any mores, just what you have stored in your memory and relics.

It is okay to feel empty.  It is okay to start crying at really weird and inconsequential (or heavy-weight) things.  Give yourself a chance to talk about it and talk about your dad.  If it helps, write me out long letters telling me about him.  Take little steps.  Nothing is the same as it was.  
The main thing is that you don't have to decide how you are supposed to feel about it, how you explain it to yourself emotionally or intellectually, how you frame your life going forward, and especially you don't have to stick with one answer.  My feelings, explanations, rationales, and so on about Erin change to match what I need.  I don't have to put it all in a box that I can store forever.

I'm sorry you are lonely and suffering.  Think of a small thing you can do to honor your feelings for your situations, and do it.  It's even better if you can do it with others.  Find a verb that works.


About the photo at the top:  I think we bought this Santa suit for our oldest niece Lauren.  I know her sister Shannon wore it, as well as Davis, and possibly Annabelle.  I don't really know where it is now, but I think I need to look for it in the attic next time I clean up there.  We still have the wagon (much worse for wear).  We hauled Erin around the lake in it when she was little and later at various times when her adventurous spirit outstripped her ability to navigate where she wanted to go.  The Elmo plane and train were just part of the always eclectic tastes Erin had in toys (and everything really).  The smile?  That's just the way she rolled.


  1. I was amazed by the way she rolled.. That infectious smile was with Erin even as a wee babe!...

    Such kind and knowing words you've written for your friend.

  2. Beautiful words from a beautiful heart--the heart that shaped Erin into the amazing girl she was.