Last week, I wrote this piece for the Washington Post on how parents can help children who are grieving. In case you haven’t read it yet, I introduced the piece by talking about how Claire was really missing her dad last summer at the pool, and then I discussed what experts say parents should do in similar situations. I did not describe Shawn’s illness or death at all.
I posted the article in an online group, thinking maybe others would want to read it. Also, I was genuinely proud of the work I did and wanted to share it. A few hours later, I saw that someone had replied to it, and had (somewhat rudely) insisted that I add a trigger warning to my post.
It’s not the first time someone has written something rude to me. I mean, I learned not to respond to comments after a few people freaked out over my first Post article, which was about taking my kids to the cemetery. (“Do not read the comments!” everyone tells me. I usually listen.) But it’s the first time some has asked me to add a trigger warning to something I’ve written.
I felt my blood pressure rise. What, exactly, was this person asking me to do?
I spent way too much time thinking about this. Was this person upset that I was interviewing experts about childhood grief? No, that couldn’t be it. They didn’t say anything offensive. Was this person upset that I mentioned my daughter missing her father? No, you couldn’t possibly be mad that a 10-year-old kid would say, “I miss Dad.” Or was this person upset that I had merely mentioned in the post that I had struggled after losing my husband to cancer? Was it my grief that was “triggering?”
Or was it just my life?
Did this person see a piece of my story – the one where my husband dies at 40 leaving me with three young kids and a mountain of grief – and feel scared that it could happen to anyone at any time? Was it scary to even think that something like this had happened to someone in the world?
It is scary. I get it. I see it on the faces of people I meet all the time. There are plenty of people who find out my story and are shaken by it.
But that doesn’t mean I need to warn everyone before I start talking about Shawn, or our life. I’m not going to tell a stranger the graphic details about how he suffered, or what it was like to find myself unable to stand after he died. I’m not going to go into that in the grocery store or the elementary school picnic. But I am also not going to pretend to be someone I’m not. I’m not going to keep a smile on my face and only talk about my family’s favorite trips and weekend dinners.
Listen, I get it. There are certainly pieces of my writing that probably should have trigger warnings on them. But this piece in the Post was not that. It simply mentioned my loss, and then experts provided ideas for parents to help kids. There are times and places when trigger warnings are useful (for example, I appreciate them when there are graphic descriptions of death so that I can decide if I want to read them) but everything in life doesn’t need to come with a trigger warning.
Moreover, asking me – or really any other family who has lost someone – to put trigger warnings on our story is just another way of asking us to stop talking about our loss. It’s another way of asking us to stop grieving and “just be happy” for the people around us….or at least to make sure that other people can choose whether or not to be exposed to stories like mine.
It’s maddening. Yes, it’s upsetting that Shawn died. He was so young, and it was so quick. We have openly grieved his loss for almost two years. But if there’s one thing I know for sure, it is this:
My life does not need a damn trigger warning.