We all deal with things differently. Going through the death of my son has shown me that in so many ways.
I was at a conference recently where I saw and reconnected with people who I haven’t seen in a long time. Some of them were colleagues that I haven’t seen in a year or two; not since I moved away in summer 2012.
After the death of my son, I never really went back to my job. I did briefly but it was a disaster. People not sure what to say to me or how to act around me. On my part, I was trying to be “ok” and not at all pulling that off. After a couple of miserable attempts at getting back to “normal” I made the decision to not return. So the end result was that I basically fell off the grid to most of the people who I had known for the last 20 years or so.
Coming face to face with a few of them last year at another conference was hard. It was 2013 and it was my first time back since I had moved. I spent that conference ducking most people. The first hour I was on site I ran into a couple of people. With one, I burst into tears as soon as I saw him and had a hell of a time regrouping myself; the other turned and almost tripped over herself trying to take off in the other direction and pretend we hadn’t made eye contact.
Needless to say, I spent the rest of that weekend with my head down, going from session to session as isolated as I could and getting off site as fast as possible at the end. Not exactly a great experience.
This year, very different, and interestingly so. A lot of healing and change has happened in the past year in me. Also, I was open to just let it come as it would this year.
I spent the first couple of hours this year very similar to last. I saw a number of colleagues and past friends in the first hour or so…and avoided them. Quickly changing direction to move to a different hallway… shifting my glance and making like I hadn’t seen them when I saw them turn towards me. For the most part, it worked. They were all ok with not coming in contact with me as well. Then the unavoidable happened. I walked almost face into one of my previous staff. No avoiding this and we both stared and said hello. Awkward chatter ensued and he seemed relieved when I said I was going a different way and would see him later. But the seal had been cut. I had done it. I had spoken to someone and I was ok.
It got easier after that…and a funny thing happened. I found that I started seeing that everyone deals differently indeed. Some people who I had known very well, who I would consider very close, were surprisingly distant and vague with me. Lots of chit-chat and “how are you” but very superficial and almost cold. It was apparent that it was a “please don’t tell me how you really have been… I don’t want to/can’t handle hearing the real honest answer”. So they got the standard reply of “doing good” and that’s that. Some mindless talk about catching up with who’s still working where etc and we would hug and say how great it was to see each other again and move on. This went on again and again with lots of people throughout the weekend.
On encounter in particular thought made me notice how different people are though… and how you can’t tell how someone is going to be.
A colleague who I hadn’t worked with in years but who I had known for a long time before that saw me across the entry area. I thought this would be a quick hello and great to see you and I’d be on my way. Her and I had been friends and work companions for almost 10 years at one point but we were never really close. I was stunned when she hugged me and asked, very plainly, how I was doing… saying in the same breath “I’ve been worried about you, losing Willie must have been horrible. I don’t know how you got through it”. Bang, right out there. No tiptoeing about or sad faces while she did the “how are you?”. Just a straight forward acknowledgement that life had dealt a shitty blow and there’s no point putting it any other way. It took me by surprise but also was a breath of fresh air. And a funny thing occurred. I answered her, openly and honestly. I teared up and wiped them away and kept talking through it… and it was all ok. We wound up walking and talking for almost half an hour until the next session. She was someone I ended up spending a few breaks and a lunch with that weekend, with other people too, but also alone and catching up.
She gave me the gift of seeing that the grief and the pain and what happened is just simply there. Not to hide from other people or to pretend it never happened. It’s just there. And it’s ok if it’s uncomfortable or if it hurts. Life’s like that. She talked about her son’s struggle with depression and how he’s doing ok now. Just simple, open conversation. Refreshing. And needed.
I needed to see that some people will run, some will mask it and pretend everything is how it was, and some will face me head on and openly. It’s all ok, not one is good or bad, no right or wrong, just unique.
No one can tell me how to grieve… and no one can tell anyone else how to react to someone grieving. We all deal, differently