Saturday, August 23, 2008

Not Enough Duct Tape in the World

One nice thing about the Ostriches and Eggshells of the world is that they run away so fast; one is spared having to expend precious energy trying to explain anything to them. They’ve left skidmarks; they cannot hear you; save your breath. You’re going to need it for The Fixers.

The Fixers are not afraid of death. In fact, they’re not afraid of anything because they’ve never had a problem they couldn’t solve, a situation they couldn’t handle, or a relationship that wasn’t perfect or ended for a perfect reason. Of course, they’ve never had a child killed in a motorcycle accident either (a great many of them have never had a child at all) but that is, according to them, an insignificant detail. What they know is that something in my life is broken and needs repair. These are the fixers I’ve met so far:

  1. What-You-Need Girl: What You Need Girl has no children and most often no significant other. She may have a cat, but that’s iffy. Her MO is being self-sufficient and self-contained and she’s the sort of friend you love to have around when you're newly, unexpectedly single (What you need is a night on the town!) or feeling your advancing age (What you need are highlights and a manicure!) or feeling stressed and overworked (What you need is a vacation…here’s the key to my beach house!), because she’s always been so great at distracting you and finding things to fill the holes in a life. In the last year or so she’s become prone to saying things like “What you need is a new hobby!” or “What you need is to volunteer!” What she really means is she wants me to find something to fill up this hole in my heart. She doesn’t know how to let an empty space just be empty.

2. Move On Girl: Move On Girl is fairly certain that we have exceeded the allowable time for mourning by at least two years. Her mission is to help us box up our remaining grief and get on with the businesses of living. She offers books and seminars and self-help tapes. She talks a lot about resolution and closure and most of her sentences begin with “Don’t you think it’s about time you….” She doesn’t know how to take no for an answer.

Hmmm…there doesn’t seem to be a number three. Maybe that’s because “What You Need Girl” covers such a broad spectrum. Regardless, it’s getting harder every day to know they look at me and see someone broken instead of someone broken hearted.

10 comments:

Kaethe said...

It's interesting that people expect grief to end. The image of a whole in your heart that can be filled up with something else is very striking to me. How could anyone possibly replace a vanished daughter with knitting?

As far as I can tell, grief never does go away; it doesn't get smaller.

Greg Hyduke said...

When you said that I was ahead of the game and that 'Move On Girl' was familiar to you, I didn't know you meant it literally! That's an astonishing bit of syncroncity.

The most poignant thing you have said so far is that some people don't know how to let an empty space be empty, or understand the difference between being broken and being broken-hearted.

I think some people have trouble with emotional multiplicity to begin with. Whether out of fear or insecurity, I don't know. Being back at work or going dancing again or the littlest, simplest thing, like the sharing of a funny joke, somehow indicates that you are 'back to normal,' and after that unrealistic expectation, you aren't supposed to have a dark moment any more, a crying jag, a day where you just don't want to get out of bed, or a phase where you question the goodness or rightness in anything and you really don't feel like talking to a single soul.

These people are hardcoded with a certain range of useful, positive emotions. They don't know how to interact with people outside of that, and it's a limitation that keeps them in their pre-programmed tracks, where they can move fast and with the least amount of friction. They are not the normal ones and the least qualified to determine what is or is not normal. They are only living part of a life. They are less-than-fully human. In this respect, they are like robots.

Katharine Weber said...

Greg, I understand how frustrating the apparent limitations of other people can be, but I really disagree that it is reasonable to dismiss these people as "robots." We have no idea what it is like to be them, just as they may have a limited grasp of what it is like to be anyone who has suffered such a devastating loss.

Greg Hyduke said...

I dunno, Katharine, I find myself trying to find holes in my analogy and failing, which could very well be a failing of my own, I admit, but I agree, it does seem harsh on second look to characterize people as anything, including robots. (Archetypes in general suffer from that; I've been assuming that issue away by not really thinking of anyone in particular, treating this as an exercise in social analysis, and including myself, self-deprecatingly, as susceptible to and perhaps representative of an archetype as well. We haven't gotten to them/us yet, but there are people who almost seem drawn to talking about grief and loss as a part of their identity, whether wired that way or honed by experience, which I alluded to in my second comment. At any rate, I don't mean to be dismissive, so thanks for checking my balance.

As for your last graph, I'm glad you brought this up. We've sort of been teasing around the edges of it.

I don't know anyone who hasn't suffered the devastating loss of someone they love. It may not be a child, and it's certainly rarer yet to meet and know someone who has lost an only child, but I'm going to have to disasgree about the inability to empathize with others who have suffered a devastating loss. It's certainly a different experience to lose a parent as a teen or in middle age, or to lose a brother or sister or a husband/wife/partner at any age, but it's well within the realm of being able to empathize with someone who has lost a child.

Now, coming full circle, if what you're saying is another way of saying that I am not empathizing very well with people who struggle with being able to empathize (who I have characterized perhaps too harshly as robots), I see your point. I talked myself into it.

Katharine Weber said...

Then we agree. I think.

I was questioning the wisdom and humanity of characterizing any designated group of people as less than fully human.

Greg Hyduke said...

And rightfully questioning it. Thanks for allowing me to elaborate.

Debi said...

This is really wonderful; I am so glad that y'all are here and having these conversations.

I don't know anyone who hasn't suffered the devastating loss of someone they love.

Greg, did you mean this literally? If so, I am stunned, but only because I was stunned to encounter so many of these people after Britt died. Even at the Ville when we began to talk about grief and mourning there were a (to me) staggering number of adults who said they'd never suffered any loss or even been to a funeral for a family member of a friend or co-worker. So, as hard as it may be in the midst of our own grief to grasp, there are people whose inability to empathize is come by honestly. Which is not to say, at all, that at least some of those people aren't sympathetic...but it's not the same, in my experience. And, as evidenced by these types I've listed here (none of which are imaginary or exaggerated though I wish they were) there are people who, in spite of their humanity, either cannot or will not cope with others' losses.

I am going to do my best (and I hope you all will join me) to avoid comparisons here of the my-grief-is-bigger-than-yours sort mostly because I think that sort of conversation simply cannot be productive. I do think I can say with a great degree of certainty that I am in the process of surviving the greatest loss I could possibly know. I also know that I cannot be the judge of that for anyone else.

Greg Hyduke said...

"there were a (to me) staggering number of adults who said they'd never suffered any loss or even been to a funeral for a family member of a friend or co-worker."

I would be equally flummoxed. I can see how it's certainly possible that someone I know as a friend or acquaintance still has all of their grandparents living, both parents, all their siblings, and so forth, but it still strike me as unlikely.

"So, as hard as it may be in the midst of our own grief to grasp, there are people whose inability to empathize is come by honestly."

A good and gentle reminder.

As for comparing loss, not only un-productive, but impossible to measure. I will hazard to say that yours is the one all parents fear the most, though. There's no talking around that. It's the nightmare scenario that elicits the most excruciating feelings.

You're such a big, determined person, Debi.

Jesse Wiedinmyer said...

So, as hard as it may be in the midst of our own grief to grasp, there are people whose inability to empathize is come by honestly. Which is not to say, at all, that at least some of those people aren't sympathetic...but it's not the same, in my experience.

I'm not sure quite what to say about any of this. Is empathy ever possible? And I mean that in the most literal sense you could ever imagine...

I am not you (regardless of who you are...) So how can I ever feel what you feel?

Debi said...

how can I ever feel what you feel?

Hmmm. That's not really what empathy means, is it? I think of empathy as recognizing the emotion someone else is feeling and acknowledging their emotional perspective.

Check out the Wikipedia article on empathy; there's some interesting stuff there regarding the parsing of sympathy, empathy, compassion, etc.

Also, Katharine, if you're about I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.