One thing that strikes me, after reading this excellent essay, is that out of all the people who know about what happened in my family, no one (outside the family itself) is being a jackass about it.
“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”
No one else is telling me I need to “get over it”. Mostly, the people I speak to about it say things like, “Man, that really sucks.” (And a fair amount of “That’s fucked up.”)
Obviously I have chosen my friends well. They are normal, healthy people who offer their empathy, not defensiveness or blame. (To be fair, that’s partly because they don’t have any skin in the game, other than being my friend. Objectivity and normalcy come easily from people who are not personally involved in what happened. Defensiveness and blame come easily from people for whom empathy would require that they take their share of the responsibility.)
The things that happened can’t be fixed. Won’t be fixed, for sure, because the people who need to fix them don’t have a need to do the work. Why should they? They still have a family — albeit it is short a couple people now. Sure, their little sister got mad about “nothing”, “threw a fit”, “picked a fight”, held a grudge, went off the deep end, broke off communication with the whole family over “nothing”, shrug, what can you do? Losing her isn’t important enough to make anyone do anything about it. They probably miss my husband; I doubt many of them miss me.
Yes, I know what I asked for is hard. What I asked for also happens to be normal, decent treatment of a valued family member. And you know what? When you care about someone, you do the hard shit for them.
If the roles were reversed, I know everyone would have come down on me like a ton of bricks for being disrespectful to Susan. It would be the easiest thing in the world. (In fact, Joe did exactly that: telling me that specific words that I supposedly used when I made my request were “disrespectful to Susan’s job”. ) But they won’t do it for me, because I am somehow less important than Susan, in my own family.
So I know they are capable of the “normal, decent treatment” part. It’s the “valued family member” part that they can’t manage. And they don’t want to understand, because to understand would require work, would require questioning things that have never been allowed to be questioned even when they make no sense, and it would be hard.
“People tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand. Because understanding is harder than posturing. Telling someone to “take responsibility” for their loss is a form of benevolent masturbation. It’s the inverse of inspirational porn: it’s sanctimonious porn.”
I’ve been thinking of a metaphor lately: that life’s relationships are like logs in a raft. If you have enough good, big, logs in your raft to hold you up, you can weather the currents and the storms that come at you. They still suck, but you can weather them, because you have your raft to depend on to keep you out of the water, to get you safely to the next port.
I used to have a really big raft. Then, when a storm hit and I lost my biggest, sturdiest log, it turned out that some of the other logs were rotten and they fell apart. Still other logs, that were held to the raft only by the rotten logs, drifted away. Suddenly, in the midst of grief and loss, I was in the water, clinging to the one log I had left.
For a decade or so, I tried to gather up the pieces of those broken, rotten logs, and fit them back into a raft that I could float on — because those logs had always been a part of my raft, and I thought my raft had to have those logs in it, or it wouldn’t be a raft.
Then, over a few years of hard work and a lot of painful realizations, it became clear to me that those rotted logs were actually what caused me to end up back in the water, time and again. And even if I could get them back in my raft, they weren’t going to hold me up.
I lost a total of 23 people when my raft fell apart. Twenty-three people.
(I guarantee that if any of them are reading this, they have just stopped to count and see if I am correct in that or not.)
That, frankly, is a shitload of loss to deal with. No wonder it took a few years to come to terms with it. Fortunately, I still had a log or two to cling to, and they kept me from going under.
I’m finding other logs, and I am building a new raft. None of the logs are quite as big as the originals — there’s not much that can make up for 40 years of shared history — but they float. And I can depend on them to hold me up.
… if anyone tells you some form of get over it, move on, or rise above, you can let them go.
If anyone avoids you amidst loss, or pretends like it didn’t happen, or disappears from your life, you can let them go.