I write and speak about grief pretty much all day, every day.
My written words and audio programs are meant to give some measure of comfort to those in pain. Writing about my own grief, writing into grief, lets me tell you that you are not alone.
But here’s where language gets tricky, especially in new grief. If an intense loss has erupted in your life, one thing you’ll hear often is “you’re not alone.”
And that isn’t really true.
No matter how many times they say “I love you,” no matter how well they do love you, no one can “do” grief with you. No one can enter into your true mind and heart and be there with you. It’s not just semantics.
The truth is, you are alone in your grief. You alone carry the knowledge of how your grief lives in you. You alone know all the filaments of life and of love that fly through you. You alone know how deeply your life is now changed. You alone have to face this, inside your own heart.
No one can do this with you.
That’s true even if they’ve had a loss similar to yours.
There’s a story that makes rounds through the grief world — it’s called “The Beduin’s Gazelle,” from the book Arab Folktales (though you wouldn’t know it by that name, most likely).
In the story, a man finds his young son dead. To soften the news for his wife, he wraps his son in a cloak, and tells his wife that he has brought her a gazelle from the hunt. In order to cook it, she has to borrow a pot from a home that has never known sorrow. Of course, she goes door to door in her community, and everyone shares a story of loss that has come to their family.
The wife returns home empty handed, saying “there are no pots that have not cooked a meal of sorrow.”
The man opens his cloak, revealing his son, and says, “it is our turn to cook meals of sorrow, for this is my gazelle.”
One interpretation of this story is that everyone grieves. Whether it’s this version of the folktale, or the version with the guru and the mustard seed, or any of the other versions you might find, that’s the common take away: everyone grieves.
Not one household, not one life, is without pain.
What I hate about that interpretation is the implied second half of a statement like that: everyone one grieves, therefore your grief is not special.
In other words: buck up. You don’t get to be cared for in your pain, because everyone is in pain. That you’re not alone in experiencing loss means you have no right to such deep grief. You’re asked to downgrade your pain simply because others have felt it, too.
But there’s another way to look at this.
As the woman walked from house to house, not yet knowing the grief awaiting her at home, she learned the pains of others. She learned, in advance, which families had suffered the loss she was about to face. Without knowing it, she laid the groundwork for finding her own tribe within a tribe.
The universe prepared her in advance for what was to come, whispering in her ears: meet them. Know them. You will be alone in grief — intensely alone, and these are the others who will know exactly what that means.
That other people have experienced pain, even pain that looks a lot like yours, is not meant as a solution to grief. It’s meant to point the way to those who understand. It’s meant to introduce you to your community.
Finding others who have shared a similar pain shows you those people who understand just how alone you are.
No one can enter the deepest heart of grief. We here, even the ones who know this magnitude of pain, we are not there with you. That is yours alone.
Our hearts have held great, great sorrow. We can be there for each other. As our words knock on the doors of each other's hearts, we become way stations for each other. Click To Tweet
Together, we recognize each other, and bow to the pain we see.
The truth is, also: you are not alone.
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