assumptions & presumptions in grief

Usually, if I’m stuck on what to write, all I need to do is go for a walk, and a topic will arrive.

Today was no exception.

I was out walking with the dog when an older man on a bike slowed to talk to us. Well, slowed to talk to Boris. The man reached down to pet him, but Boris paid no attention. He didn’t register the man at all,  just continued walking.

The man smiled kindly at me and said, “his eyesight isn’t so good anymore, huh? He doesn’t see me. Poor blind old dog.”

My dog’s eyesight is perfect. I explained to the man, “He has no interest in anyone he doesn’t know, and he is entirely focused on his walk right now. His eyes are on the road.”

The man on the bike seemed confused by this, but I walked off thinking – first: how fascinating that his immediate assumption was that Boris had poor eyesight, rather than assume that Boris was uninterested in him.

Second: that’s so totally related to grief.

How many times has someone come up to you and said, “You must feel so…. (fill in the blank.)” or: “I saw you standing there in line, thinking of your husband – I could tell you were thinking of him by the way you looked off into space.”

Or maybe you find out, days or weeks after the fact, that someone’s feelings were hurt when you didn’t respond to them in a certain way, or that you didn’t seem to want to talk to them. Meanwhile, you have no recollection of even seeing them at all.

So often in grief, we’re told by people outside our experience what the experience is like for us: what it means, what it feels like, what it should feel like. People take our social reactions – or non-reactions – personally, ascribing meaning to them without ever checking out their assumptions.

Making assumptions is normal. Everyone does it.

The truth is, in our everyday lives, our own lived reality is usually far different than what others assume.

In grief, that gulf between assumption and actuality is even wider. There is so much room for misunderstanding, and so little interest, or energy, in the griever to track down or correct those misunderstandings. It all just adds to the exhausting experience of grief.

Part of my work here, with Refuge in Grief, is to help people become aware of their assumptions. To help them see that making guesses about someone else’s interior life is not only unhelpful, it’s actually quite rude.

Making assumptions without checking in to see if those guesses are accurate leaves a grieving person feeling more alone, more isolated, and completely misunderstood. Making guesses results in the opposite of what most people actually want: to be of service, to show love and support for the people they care about.

It’s okay to make guesses. That’s how our minds work. How deeply we believe in the absolute accuracy of our guesses – that’s where we have choices. We all have the option to check out our assumptions, be aware that we’re making  assumptions, before we decide to state our guesses as facts. We also have the option to call someone else on their assumptions about our lives, which can sometimes result in a really great connection.

The tricky thing is, the energy to correct someone else’s assumptions is not really there in early grief. In that case, you can do exactly what Boris did: ignore the incorrect guesses, and just continue on your path.


flame-heart-100How about you? How have other peoples’ assumptions shown up in your life, and in your grief? Do you catch yourself making assumptions about others? (I do, all the time!) Have you corrected someone’s assumptions about your grief? If so, how did that turn out? Let us know in the comments.