“I don’t want to bother you….” starts the email. It’s nothing new. I get an email or a text or something like this at least a couple of times a day. At first, when Shawn was sick and then immediately after he died, I couldn’t really process anything. I read the emails and then never responded and I figured people understood. If I’m being honest, I didn’t even care. I appreciated the outreach in the immediate aftermath, but (and I’m sorry here for everyone who helped me) I honestly can’t really remember who did what. I was in such a fog.
I’m not totally out of that fog yet, but I am able to read the text messages and emails. So let me say this very clearly – it never bothers me when you contact me to tell me that you are thinking about me or my family. Wanna know the thing I like the best? When you tell me something you remember about Shawn.
The other day, my friend Beth came over to eat pizza, and after some wine we started talking about Thanksgiving. My family had gone to her house on that day last fall and we had all spent an evening laughing and talking and drinking. Shawn felt bad, I knew that, but he also loved being there, and we talked later that night about what dear friends Beth and her husband Brian were to us.
In some ways, that memory seems like a million years ago, but in other ways, it’s like it was just yesterday. As we ate our pizza dinner and reminisced about that Thanksgiving day, Beth told me about how she missed Shawn, and how there was such a void left in his absence. We talked about how our families had just recently become close the past year, and how hard it was to lose Shawn. We both got teary, but were saved from openly crying by our children who demanded various things from us. We never really had time to finish our discussion.
I left dinner that night and went to a grief group. In it, we talked about the circle of grief and how we should “comfort in and dump out.” The basic idea is that people at the center of the loss shouldn’t have to comfort people who are less connected to the situation. I agree, in general. It’s just too much for me to try and comfort, say, a parent of a student of mine about the loss of my husband. I appreciate the sentiment, but I can’t handle grief from people I barely know.
Still, I worry that seeing such a chart might mean that people think they can’t share their sadness with me. On the contrary, I want the stories, no matter how they are told. The thing about telling stories about Shawn so soon after his death is that it means people who tell me those stories may cry. They may inadvertently “dump in” on me.
I don’t care.
For me, I would much rather have someone share and maybe have a breakdown than to not share at all. I would much rather get a rambling email about some story that reminds me of Shawn than to never read anything about him. It may make someone cry. It may make me cry. But dammit, this whole situation is just sad, and that’s going to mean that when people share their hearts with me, sometimes we cry.
I would much rather have connection than perfection.
If I’m going to expand this further, I want my friends to invite me along on whatever they are doing. I want us to take a risk together that we might both cry as we talk over dinner. I want to be asked, over and over again, to go out, even if I say no the first dozen times. I want my friends and my family to bother me.
Here’s the thing – I might cry when something sets me off. I might find myself out to dinner, as I did with my friend Shannon a few weeks ago, and I might end up sobbing about Shawn’s death while the people at the next table laugh hysterically. That scene I caused at the hip restaurant with Shannon was awkward and it was definitely imperfect. But she cried with me in that beautiful spot, sharing her stories too. I wanted to see Shannon, and it meant so much to me that she “bothered” me to take me out. It meant even more that she sat with me and shared her pain of losing Shawn.
Here’s the thing – I want to keep living even while I am grieving. I want to have fun and order margaritas and maybe I will also cry into my drink at a moment that no one is expecting. But that is where I am right now. I am holding the sadness, heavy in my hands, but there is joy in the world and I want to hold that too.
I want my friends and my family to be real with me, and I need to be allowed to be real in return. Overstepping and potentially oversharing is better than doing nothing at all, because when people hold back, I think everyone has either forgotten Shawn or just doesn’t want to hang out with me anymore. I know neither is the case. I love the emails and the texts and the invites out. Even better, I love the chance to sit down with a glass of wine and share a story about Shawn with someone who loved him. It’s how Shawn would have wanted it.
My friend Beth texted me the day after we hung out and ate pizza. “I’m sorry if I overshared last night,” she wrote. “I had been wanting to tell you that story and I hope I didn’t lose all sense of decorum.”
“Not at all!” I texted back. “I love when people share with me. Really. It reminds me that other people miss Shawn too, you know?”
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.