When we hear about bad news happening to others our first reaction is often to cry and think about how it impacts our lives. Our OWN lives. This isn’t to say that we aren’t so terribly sorry for the subject of the bad news, but we are human and immediately fall back on what we know: our own experiences.
In the first six months after Madeline died I had a random stranger email me every day to tell me I was a horrible person because all I could focus on was how Madeline’s death affected ME. She told me I should be more like Elizabeth Edwards, who would occasionally write lovely essays from the point of view of her departed son. I look to Elizabeth Edwards’ writings on grief as a bible of sorts, but telling someone who is mere days/weeks/months into grief that they should be as enlightened as someone many years down the road is very insensitive. I’ve constantly thought about the things Maddie won’t get to do in life, but it’s never something I’ve felt comfortable addressing from any perspective other than my own.
I heard news today and I immediately crumpled, distraught. And then I felt guilty because it’s not about me (well, it is about me to a certain respect because loved ones matter), but it obviously affects the person it is happening to a lot more. This is something I hadn’t really considered until I heard Elizabeth Edwards speak at a conference I went to six months after Madeline died. She was asked about how dealing with her terminal diagnosis was different from dealing with her son’s death, and her reply really opened my eyes.
She said that this time she was grieving the loss of her life; the loss of herself.
It was such a simple thing but it had never occurred to me. As difficult as it is to grieve for someone else, it is even harder to grieve for yourself. Elizabeth Edwards was grieving not getting to live the life she’d always wanted and to grow old with her loved ones.
I left the conference and called a friend to say I was sorry that I hadn’t been mindful of the grief over loss of self. Until then, I’d only understood the pain of those left behind.
Despite having learned that lesson, my first thought today upon hearing bad news was to think about how it affected me. I am almost four years down this road, and while I thought I would know all there is to know about grief by now, it turns out I still have a long way to go.