Posts tagged “grief decorum”.

I Want to Talk About Anna

_about to laughI realize that no one knows what to say the first time they see me – whether back at work or since the funeral. It’s OK. There really is nothing to say. It’s OK to say, “How are you?” Even though we both know I’m not good. So, when you see me, you can say, “How are you?” And I’ll probably say, “As good as can be expected.” Or, “I’m alright.” Or, “I’m OK.” So there, we just had the conversation. That wasn’t so bad.

It’s also fine to get right to work. I understand that life has to go on, and that a lot of life went on while I was in deep grief that I have to catch up on. So, if we work together, it’s OK to say, “Did you finish your budget yet?” without saying anything else to reference Anna and our loss. I really do care about my job, about the work of fighting cancer, and I still think it is important work.

I am still me. Which is to say, I am still someone who cares about you. (That is, if I did care about you before. I’m also not a saint, so, if I did not care about you and your problems before, I probably still do not care about you and your problems.) But if I did care about you before, I still care about you and it is OK to talk about yourself, your life, your problems. You do not have to preface it with the disclaimer that you know your problems are not as bad as mine. Each of us puts our own life on the same spectrum. Your worst experience feels as bad to you as my worst experience feels to me. (Within reason, of course. If your worst experience has been, say, ruining your manicure, I think we can agree that I feel worse.) Until I lost Anna, the worst thing that happened to me – and it felt really, really painful at the time – was having a sick baby. If nothing worse ever happened to me, I would think that was really, really terrible … because it was. Just like your bad experience, bad day, bad relationship is really, really terrible for you. And I like you, so I want to help you, even just by listening.

Here’s the other thing, if you see me, please know that I want to talk about Anna. I think about her all the time. I remember when my friend Greg lost his mom that I really wanted to talk to him about her. I didn’t want to ignore his grief and pain, but I could not for the life of me think of how to bring her up, since I didn’t know her very well. I think others feel that way about me now. So here are some conversation starters, so we can talk about Anna:

  • “I thought of Anna the other day, and even though I never got to meet her, I felt so sorry that she’s gone.”
  • “One of my happiest Anna memories was when …”
  • “How was it … going back to work?” or “… putting her things away?” or “… having the holidays without her?” [Really, you’re not going to remind me of a sad time by bringing it up. Believe me, I remember it anyway. And I’d rather share my sadness – or my joy – rather than keep it to myself.]
  • “I wish Anna was here right now because …”
  • “Do you remember the day I met Anna?”
  • “What would you have dressed Anna up as for Halloween?”
  • “I wonder how Christmas (or camp, or vacation, or this party) would have been different with Anna here?”
  • “Nora is so cute. Do you think Anna would have grown up to look more like her or Henry?”
  • “I like seeing babies because they remind me of Anna.”
  • “Every time I see you I think about Anna. How are you doing?”
  • “I hope you got my card. I want you to know I really felt sorry for your loss.” [This is especially helpful – the “I hope you got my …” or “I hope you liked the …” statements. Because although I try to remember exactly who sent what, I do forget. And I really would like to thank you in person.]
  • “Anna would have been X months/years old today. I wonder what she would have been like. I think she would have been …”
  • “It has been X months/years since we lost Anna. It must still be so hard.”
  • “What are you thinking about?” [Clever! Because you know I’m thinking about Anna.]

Let me just say that all of this advice is directly pertinent to me. I have no idea if other people who are grieving feel the same way. My guess is that they probably want to talk about their loved one, too, but maybe these aren’t good questions for them. For me, it is almost impossible to say the wrong thing, as long as it is coming from the heart. If your goal is to comfort me, I appreciate the effort.

In the first week after we lost Anna, someone (maybe the funeral home?) gave us a photocopied sheet of inappropriate things people might say and suggested responses. I titled it the “How to Say Eff-Off Without Swearing” brochure. I threw away the document, but I remember one of the exchanges was something like this:

Inappropriate comment:  “I’m sorry you lost your baby but at least she’s in a better place now.”

Suggested response: “The best place for my baby is in my arms.”

Ouch. The person was just trying to make you feel better. They probably don’t deserve a zinger. And really, is there really any right thing to say? Believe me, there is certainly nothing you can say to make me feel better. Just having you in my life and knowing you care and are thinking about Anna too helps. Sometimes the most helpful thing is silence.

I try to do something specific to remember or honor Anna on the 8th and 26th of every month – the day we got her and the day we lost her. I am almost beyond thinking of her more consciously every Friday (hello) and every Sunday (good bye) – but that’s mostly because I can’t keep track of the days of the week. Feel free on those days just to say, “I’m thinking of Anna today, too.” It helps just to know we are not alone in all this.

We are planning Anna’s interment (when her ashes will be placed in the columbarium outside the church) for some time in October. We will have a simple service of prayer and remembering, and then go back to our house to plant spring bulbs (in my grief I bought 300!) so that the garden is alive with color on what would have been Anna’s one-year birthday. We may bless – or plant – her blue spruce that day, too. I’ll post the date when we figure it out. We’re just waiting for the plaque that will be placed on the outside of the columbarium to come in.

We also started a “I’m a Fan ‘a Anna” group on Facebook. Check it out – the only requirement to join is that you are inspired by Anna’s short, sweet life. And that girl was nothing if not inspiring. I sure do miss her.

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