Among the most annoying of platitudes are the ones that suggest you needed out-of-order death or a massive life changing injury in order to learn something, or become something:
- your partner died? At least now you get to know what’s really important.
- you must have really needed to learn about letting go.
- I hear loss like this makes you really appreciate the little things – it makes you kinder to everyone, too.
- I wonder if you made an agreement in a past life that you would learn about this stuff together.
- Such intense loss can make you so much stronger!
- Think of how much nicer you will be, now that you know how much pain people can be in. You’ve been on that side now, so you know.
- Well, everyone needs to learn how to be less attached. That’s what all those Eastern teachings say. We’re all too “attached.”
I can’t even type this stuff without rolling my eyes.
There is such a pervasive weirdness in our culture around grief. We judge and we blame, dissect and minimize. People look for the flaws in what you’ve done to get you to this place: she didn’t exercise enough. Didn’t take enough vitamins. Took too many. He shouldn’t have been walking on that side of the road. They had unresolved childhood issues – see what unhealed issues do to you?
All those things we think and say when we want to distance ourselves from someone else’s pain. We make it less likely in our minds that such a thing would ever happen to us. We wouldn’t make those same mistakes.
And you know what else? If that unthinkable thing happened to us anyway, we wouldn’t take it so hard. We’d find the lesson in it. We’d become softer, gentler, more understanding. Man, FINALLY, we’d get to know what was really important.
People, grief is not an enlightenment program for a select few. Everyone in the world is not running around being clueless, hating on people, not knowing what’s important to them, floundering along with an underdeveloped set of skills, waiting – just waiting – for some massive thing to come along and teach them how to be real.
Seriously. If out of order death, and the grief that rushes into that empty space, were meant as a wake-up call to the unenlightened to get their sh*t together, we would see the demographics of grief and loss look incredibly different:
Only self-absorbed jerks would get served up this lesson.
Only those truly clueless about love, relatedness, kindness, and connection would receive this harsh “lesson” in learning to be softer and more kind.
You’d better get your act together, or that punitive, scolding head mistress of the universe is going to twack you with the grief ruler. Bam! Get your sh*t together!
Clearly, I’m in a bit of mood this morning. No particular reason. What I’ve noticed over the last several weeks is that the one thing that is guaranteed to push my buttons and bring out all of my personal Kali-esque tendencies is hearing about my people being dismissed and judged.
The only place I am guaranteed to get teary is when I think about all the extra added pain that is loaded on to already grieving hearts: the correction, the judgment, the dismissal, the subtle and not-subtle shaming delivered by a clueless population, who think of everything in terms of how you earned this, or what you need to learn from it.
You can’t decide to redeem or dismiss grief just by deciding it’s a lesson someone needed to learn. You don’t get to decide which grief is valid based on your judgment of whether the person did enough wrong, or enough not right to make this happen.
So my people, my people, here is my message: you did absolutely nothing to deserve this. You didn’t need to learn anything that allegedly only intense grief can teach.
Maybe (a big maybe) maybe your grief has made you kinder, or less inclined to argue about stupid stuff. Maybe you’ve rearranged some priorities in your life. You didn’t need grief in order to do that. Grief is one path to a deeper life, but there are lots of roads to that castle. You might have even already lived there. I bet most of you reading here did.
No one – NO ONE – needs out-of-order death in order to learn how to show up in their own lives and live beautifully. Many of us already lived there.
You were already a student. You had already learned. You didn’t need a strict come-uppance and a nasty lesson plan.
Being a student of love is never a bad thing: though the subject matter often covers very rough territory, love is not a punitive head mistress.
Given the devastation that you neither earned nor needed, there may still be things you can learn – about love, how it continues, how it connects.
There are lessons to be learned in grief. Lessons about trusting your own heart, leaning into the places you are deeply broken. There are lessons to learn, places to explore, ways to find out if any of your deep self remains.
So learn, yes. Study your own heart, yes. And please, also know this: you did nothing wrong. You did not need to learn what was important. You already knew.
How about you? Have you been told you needed to “learn something important” because of your loss? What things have you been forced to learn that you really did not need to know? That last bit especially – I’ll be working on a part two to this post: all those things we learned that we really did not need to know.
Keep in touch – leave a comment, or send me a message.