What is a Grief-O-Meter, you ask? It’s a fabulous new invention where you can just scan someone with a little laser gun (like the ones they use at Target) and get a grief-reading. High number means they get it — they’ve either experienced grief firsthand, or they’ve emotionally supported someone through the grief process. Suggested action: Proceed with friendship. Low number means that they don’t get it — everything is still giggles and sunshine and “everything happens for a reason” and snuggly puppies (or babies). Suggested action: Avoid at all costs because they’re gonna piss you right the hell off and make you want to run shrieking into the night, or crush their rosy vision of the world, or both.
When meeting new people, I find myself zapping them with my imaginary Grief-O-Meter. What’s their grief-reading? Have they been touched by that overwhelming loss that goes with the death of a loved one? Have they supported someone through the grief process? Have they experienced baby- or child-loss? Or infertility? Sometimes you can easily discern their grief-reading, and sometimes not. Sometimes there’s an aged, tired, or pained look in their eyes. Sometimes they don’t immediately change the subject or look away when they learn of your loss. Sometimes they actually even ASK about the loved one and really mean it. Occasionally, you’ll come across the rare breed who hasn’t experienced shattering grief firsthand, but who are still emotionally available because they just inexplicably, irrationally, REALLY care about others in general. In my experience, however, there aren’t many of those out there — most people have to feel it before they understand it. I’ve found that I feel most drawn to new people who are members of the”grief club,” where trite platitudes and empty conversation fillers don’t apply.
Most people in my age bracket and younger (teens, 20’s, 30’s, sometimes even 40’s) register very low (if at all) on the Grief-O-Meter. In the 18 months since Mama’s death & 8 months since the miscarriages, I’ve learned not to expect too much from people emotionally. Since I have yet to invent the Grief-O-Meter, I’ve taken to assuming a low grief-reading until proven otherwise. Everyone has an emotional comfort zone, and for most of us, the zone = emotional unavailability. It’s just easier and more convenient if you don’t really let things in, or let anything touch you. It’s rare to meet someone new who’s available for those gritty, raw conversations about marital issues, family breakdowns, baby- or child-loss, infertility, and/or depression. It took me a while to learn to filter these topics out of my daily conversation… after all, there’s nothing like a reference to your mother’s funeral to really bring a casual conversation to a grinding halt. Oh look, here comes that sad girl again… HIDE!
This morning, I had breakfast with the wife of our Sunday School class leader. Her grief-reading was high… she gets it. She’s one of those rare people who aren’t only open to a real conversation, but who also seem really determined to actually have one. She’s not afraid of the hard questions, or tears, or death. She gets it — the death anniversaries, the overwhelming anger & depression, how horribly wretched this coming Mother’s Day is going to be, how it feels to watch your precious loved one slip away.
We talked and talked. And when we parted ways, we hugged. And I’m not a hugger.