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On Grief and How People are Strange

6 January, 2013

I’ve learnt a lot about grief in the last couple of months. I was reading “Suffering Well” before Dad died. I’ve read “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis and Good Grief by G.E. Westberg. I’ve read countless articles about grief, about children and grief and about death. I’ve spoken to a counsellor and a few psychologists (informally and formally). So I can say that I do know something about grief.

One thing I’ve learnt about grief is anything that talks about “stages of grief” is ultimately unhelpful, except to let people know that it’s normal to feel angry/numb/sad/depressed/etc. It does NOT mean that everyone will feel every one of those things.

I learnt that there are two main types of grieving: instrumental and relational. Instrumental is about doing things and relational is about talking to people and hugging and feeling better through spending time with other people.

Another thing I’ve learned through the grieving process is that a lot of people are selfish. People will want to visit you regardless of what you need or how you feel. People will tell you how to feel or be offended when you don’t grieve like they expect. Others will try to be nice by reaching out in ways they would like to be helped if they were grieving but give little thought to what the bereaved need or ignore specific requests from the bereaved family. I think part of the problem is that the church (and maybe society) is just not geared for introverted, task oriented people, who grieve “instrumentally”, especially if that person is a woman.

But to whinge and moan about it all would only serve to allow me to vent. Most people are trying to be nice but just don’t think. I don’t want to offend those well meaning but unhelpful people (although there’s a few completely selfish people I’d hold no qualms about offending!)

The best way I can impact the unhelpful people is to thank those people who were truly helpful. I hope others can learn from their examples. So to those people who were genuinely helpful in the weeks following Dad’s death, Thank you!

I owe big thank yous to:
Beth Fuller who brought us meals (and extras) without being asked to and without anyone organising a roster.
My amigos from Spanish class – Sergio and Kathryn Piñeiro and Chris and Sonia Parker – who gave up their day to serve morning tea to strangers at the thanksgiving service, and then thanked me for the privilege!
Janis Donnelly-Coode who helped us with her professional expertise by answering questions and helped me by just being available to chat and be a sounding board.
Steve and Kelly Krimmer who had their girls babysat and came to Dad’s service just to support Mark and I.
Al Gerber who skyped with me at 3am Boston time, after a busy day of Thanksgiving then midnight toy sales.
Glenn and Sarah Slaven who looked after four of my crazy children (as well as four of their own crazy children AND two crazy dogs) so I could go to an appointment.
Two parents from school who looked after Zoe and Reuben after school one day so I could go to Mark’s work Christmas party.
My siblings, who have rallied together and helped each other, and Mum, in ways that are too personal to describe in a public blog post.
Of course, my wonderful husband Mark Parnell, who has helped in an infinite number of ways, not least of all keeping the house running and children sane while I was helping my family, and being patient with me when the housework was behind because I was busy with family responsibilities.

Without the help of the above people, the last few months would have been much more difficult than it has been. I owe them more than I can hope to repay them.

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