Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dealing With (Someone Else's) Grief

I don’t know what has been eating me the past several days.  Things in my world are going relatively well.  I have the new hair (upon which I have been getting an embarrassingly large number of positive comments…) and the new nails (of which I have only broken one, so far L.)  Business at the restaurant has been surprisingly un-bad, considering this has traditionally been the time of year when sales fall off into winter oblivion.  I hired a new cook who is actually a mature woman with experience, though I suppose it remains to be seen whether that is in fact a plus or a minus (she starts this afternoon…)  I’m making headway on some of the major projects that have been hanging over my head for months.


So why do I feel as if, somewhere in the back of my conscious mind, someone is scraping fingernails on a black board?


I think I may be suffering from some kind of weird variation of survivor’s guilt.  I have two good friends who are going through horrendous bad times right now.  One has lost a husband, one has lost a child.  I feel so sad for them.  I hate the walk that they will be walking for the foreseeable future, for the rest of their lives, actually.  And since these are internet friends who live thousands of miles away, I hate that I can’t help.


Not that there is anything anyone can do for someone who is deep in grief.  Everyone grieves differently; there are no rules.  Even in my personal experience, I’ve handled grief for my sister and grief for my dad in two different ways.  When my sister died, I lived entirely IN my grief, and then gradually climbed out of it, healing myself as I went (well, you’re never healed, but you learn to pack it up and take it with you.)  When Dad died, I had to completely step away from the pain, and then revisit and assimilate it in small pieces at a time.   There are probably as many “formulae” for handling grief as there are human beings on the planet.  Or more.


The disconcerting thing about having internet friends going through bad times is that in the worst of times, there are just no words.  Shortly after both my sister’s and my dad’s deaths, people we knew lost loved ones, too.  And I remember very clearly being physically unable to offer words of comfort, because I knew from all-too-recent experience that no words were adequate.  We come up with things to say or write upon occasions of bereavement because…why?  Because we think we need to?  Because we’re uncomfortable and seek to fill the sad silence with something?  Because society tells us we need to? Mostly a waste of breath, or ink…


But my relationships with my internet friends are built upon words.  We havebeen all about sharing words since we “met” almost five years ago.  So what comfort can you offer someone when the thing upon which your friendship is founded has become more hindrance than help?  I feel frustrated and helpless.  And then I feel like an ass for making their grief “about me.”


All I can really do is hope that they know I’m thinking about them every day.  And try to write the right thing when the need arises…



  1. Please don't ever underestimate what you words can do to or for someone.  Words are so very powerful, and sometimes that's all we've got to deal with.  We can't put are arms around someone, so our words have to wrap around their hearts.  

    You sound like such a wonderful friend, and I hope that you continue to use your words to help heal a distant friends pain.


  2. Grief, guilt, remorse- all things we deal with differently. You write from the heart and that cannot be wrong at any time. Dannelle

  3. Sometimes Lisa, the words get in the way.  I know it isn't all about you ... and you know ... I don't think you 'made it' all about you.  I think you are bringing up an area of internet friendship that is tough to handle.  

    The only think I can offer of comfort are words that let my internet friends know I will offer prayers for their loved one and if I could see them in person a hug -- because the touch of a friend is so important.

    I also think we all know that our internet friendships are very different than our face-to-face friendships and so we accept the sometimes inadequate words our friends write (and that we write for them).

    Hugs my friend.  Real ones if I could.  

  4. I too have felt the helplessness as I watch GG go through these difficult times.   Your descriptions of the way you handled two very different grieving processes are poignant and insightful.

    I'm not sure that the commenter who said internet friendships are different is on the mark.  The relationship is different but the friendship is as deep and in some cases deeper than some of the people I see daily.   I have felt deep pain in this case and the knowledge that words were not enough was frustrating but I also felt that, in this case, prayers were not enough and that hasn't happened before.

    I'm glad GG linked to your blog.   I'll be back.

  5. I express condolences because I feel for the person, not because society tells me I need to. I disagree that offering condolences is a waste of breath or ink, and I'm downright offended at the suggestion that it's something a person does to try to make themselves feel good. Everyone has suffered losses, and when you hear about someone else suffering a loss, if you have any feeling at all, it takes you back to your own losses, and you empathize, and if you know them, even in cyberspace, you may attempt to offer comfort by saying you're sorry for their loss. At the very least, it's an acknowledgment of their pain. I know that the words don't touch the pain, and yet everyone who takes the time to say they're sorry is attempting to provide comfort, and that is a caring thing to do.  Would silence be better?  What if you suffered a loss and everyone just went on about their business and no one said they were sorry?  For me that would not be better...and so I offer my condolences.


  6. I don't think internet friendships are different.  And the words, whatever they are, are terrifically important because they are said.  When I say there are no words, that's because there are no words.  But the offering of them means everything.  I hope everyday that someone has left a comment or sent me an email.  If that makes any sense at all.

  7. makes perfect sense to me...

  8. Judi, it's not that all words are weak at times of grief.  Of course our humanity moves us to express condolences.  I just feel constrained by the nature of my internet friendships, because words are all I have to offer, and they don't help.

    I guess I didn't do a very good job of saying what I meant. Or maybe I didn't really mean anything that makes sense to anyone but me.  Sorry if I offended.  Lisa  :-[