Grief changed me. Not just in the obvious ways. Suddenly I own a keen awareness of the power of words, an understanding that a smile doesn’t always reflect happiness and a heightened sensitivity toward others. It’s unfortunate that people miss the way their words can be interpreted. For the most part, I don’t think the words are delivered with malice, but rather from ignorance of grief. Since loss, I’ve been the recipient of many words that weren’t easy to digest.
“It must be nice to be you and not have to deal with family during the holidays.”
“Traveling alone? I could never. I go everywhere with my husband.”
“I wish I had a break from my children. I never get a break. It must be great to be you.”
My physical response is always a smile, sometimes paired with a soft laugh as if to acknowledge the thought. But deep in my mind, I think: I’d put up with holiday stress to have my mom and dad back. Try a holiday alone just once and you will see exactly what it feels like. Do I want to travel solo? Of course not. But everyone I know has family or is with the one they love. These days, that isn’t an option. Maybe you should be there when I have to say goodbye to my 9 and 11 year old each week for 7 of the longest days. It’s a deep pain that I carry until they return to me. I would give up the break from my children to have that pain erased.
People are always so quick to pass judgment on the lives of others. Truth be told, the grass isn’t really greener on the other side. I have learned that smiles are often covers for someone just trying to get by. During bereavement group, the phrase that I clung to the most was, “Fake it till you make it.” That’s me. Faking it.
In education, daily reflection of a lesson is considered good practice. As a veteran educator, it makes sense this practice carried into my personal life. As the grief fog lifted and I reflected on my own experience, I learned everyone has a story. Things aren’t always as they seem. As the recipient, clichés feel terrible. Consider sensitivity when constructing comments. Words can have a powerful punch. These days I judge less, offer more action than words and have perfected a graceful reaction to the sting.
Kim Libertini is all too familiar with grief and the Co-Founder of Goodgrief App, the social network for loss available for less than a latte, for download in the App Store, Google Play and www.goodgriefapp.com. You can follow Goodgrief App on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.