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I Don’t Know How to Respond to That - Grief and Loss in Western Society

Updated: Mar 5, 2022

The day I wrote this blog I woke up to a text from the woman who runs my daughter’s daycare. This is a small, in-home day and afterschool program with less than 15 kids. Itsy Bitsy is friends with everyone at the daycare and while Fat Papa and I might not know the parents, we certainly feel connected to each family from what we hear about their kids from Itsy Bitsy. So, the text this morning hit me hard.

The daycare informed families, this small group of people all connected to one another by our children, that one family was about to experience a tragic loss. One of the kids, who Itsy Bitsy plays with regularly and talks about all the time, is losing a parent to cancer. Doctors expect the battle to be lost within the next 48-hrs. So, by the time you are reading this post ...

The daycare has suggested not only that we talk to our kids about grief and loss but that we also, as a community, join together and donate gift cards, money, or beneficial items to help this soon to be grieving family. As I am writing this, my phone is blowing up with texts from other parents on our community message group. Everyone wants to offer their love and support, but everyone also seems at a loss.

After all, how in the ducking wide world do you respond to something like this?

I mean … I don’t know these people. I have never met the kid. I couldn’t pick the family out in a crowd. Sure, our kids attend the same daycare, but really, we are strangers. I don’t know how to respond in this situation.

So, I find myself laughing ... at myself. That is why I have placed this morbid, grief-filled post in "Learning to Laugh." There is nothing funny, at all, about the tragedy this family is going through, but it is funny how ill-equipped I feel to deal with something as commonplace as death. It is funny how poorly modern western society deals with grief despite it being an emotion we all experience.

I've learned to laugh at myself when I feel uncomfortable. When I don't know how to respond to something, laughing at myself and asking, "Why do I feel this way," somehow helps. So, lets all laugh at ourselves, and with one another, while we confront this uncomfortable topic, community grief and embracing our own mortality. Perhaps our laughter can help break through the tears.

Grief and the Community

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I don’t want to offer my support, emotionally or monetarily. And again, there is nothing funny about this situation. What I am saying is I LITERALLY do not know how to respond to this. So, I responded how all the other parents are responding. I texted back some platitudes about grief, loss, and support coupled with sad and heart emojis. Ha, as if that is any comfort to anyone.

Wow, does that response feel inadequate. I mean, that isn’t going to be all I do, just some words and symbols. I’ve already ordered a couple kids' coloring and journaling books on grief and loss, but wow, that also feels so … so … so … again, I don’t know how to respond to this. I'm having a hard time finding the words to express my own feelings over another family's loss.

If the tables were turned, I’m trying to think how I would want people to respond. But then, I am not most people so maybe what I would want is not relevant. I’ve asked for more specifics on what the family would like for support, and if the family knows the daycare is telling us what is going on in their life right now but the response is so basic. "Gift cards are always easy and nice to have on hand."

I feel like the way I get myself through confronting my own mortality is to laugh. Laugh at the absurdity of how ill-prepared I feel for this. Laugh at how I am blowing this way out of proportion. Laugh at how I overanalyze every social situation, even ones like this. Laugh at how my anxiety and unease is being channeled into some form of action.

If this was me and I was about to lose Fat Papa, I’m not sure what kind of community support I would want. But texts filled with emojis certainly would not help. I want to be helpful because that is how I deal with every problem; I try to be of service. Then I laugh at myself for assuming that I can help in every situation. But how can we who are part of a community of strangers provide support to one another? Are gift cards really the answer?

I cannot imagine what this family is dealing with right now and I wish we knew more about their situation. Do they have other family who live in the area? Are they strapped for cash? What kind of emotional support is in place? But these are not really questions you ask someone who is actively grieving, whose first name you don’t even know. This is no laughing matter.

Yet, because of our kids, we are part of a community. We are part of a small community of less than 15 families who don’t really know each other. This small group of families should absolutely help support one another in times of need, crisis, and grief. But wow, I do not know how to respond to this. I don’t know how I would want people to respond if I was in this family’s shoes.

There Are Not Enough Curse Words in the English Language to Express My Discomfort

This ducking quacks. I long for community so much, and often it seems like crisis is what brings community closer together. But grief, loss, pain … when it is not felt by the whole community, it feels like it drives a deeper wedge rather than building a bridge. We as a society do not deal well with grief and loss. Especially not when the grief and loss is “unacceptable.” The loss of a young child’s parent is unacceptable, whereas the death of a grandparent, even if sudden, is expected and relatable.

Even writing this post I feel bad. This post, though yes, it is on my blog and this blog focuses on my thoughts, feelings, and innermost demons, feels so self-centered at a time when someone else is suffering. In a way, writing this post, while helping me parse out my thoughts and feelings on grieving and loss in a community, also feels so incredibly overindulgent and egocentric.