Growing up in Ontario, my best friend was a goalie, and he was good -- played what we in Virginia would call "Travel" hockey (it was called either "rep" or "all-star" back then). This meant that his dad spent a ton of time driving around southern Ontario to various rinks, and he often let me ride along. We'd talk about various stuff (besides hockey!), and he was an interesting guy. He taught sociology at the university, and I found it somewhat interesting.
Since November, I've often thought about him (he passed away several years ago) and what he'd have to say about how folks react to a tragedy like this. It's a test, though I don't see it as one to pass or fail: rather, I think it measures how well we're connected to our emotions and our ability to express that.
What I mean is that people's reactions run the gamut, ranging from empathetic and carefully thought out to jolly and seemingly carefree. None of of these is "wrong" -- people have to react as they are able to -- but it's fascinating to observe because it's so unpredictable.
One would think that age, experience, and how close someone was to us would be significant factors here, but they don't appear to be: some of the most heartfelt responses were from some of the youngest folks, or from people with whom we were not close. And some of the least empathetic were from older people, some of whom are almost family.
It is difficult to accept people who don't even acknowledge your loss. Near as I can tell, this comes from one of three places:
- they think it's so obvious that they care that they don't need to say anything
- they don't know what to say
- they're afraid that if they say anything, they'll "bring us down"
These are all quite understandable, but they all make me want to ask them a basic question: "If you don't say anything, why do you think we'll take your caring for granted?" That sounds harsh, but we're pretty raw here.
I want to go on to tell them, "If you don't know what to say, then say that. It tells us that you care but are at a loss." We're all at a loss. As my earlier post said, "Ain't no why".
And trust me, we're down already. We not only don't forget, but actually need to talk about our loss to heal. I'm not sure if this represents becoming inured from repeated exposure, or if we'll actually get to understanding through talking, or perhaps just that the acknowledgment and caring themselves are a balm.
I'm at a conference in sunny Anaheim this week, across the street from Disneyland. We took Katie there several times, back when she was young enough that we'd pull her out of school for a week before or after this conference and go to California as a family. It's been six years since I was here, and eleven years since we were all here together, so it's only vaguely unsettling to see familiar sights.
It is very nice to see old friends -- many of whom I only ever see once or twice a year at meetings. I just spoke with one, a guy I've actually known only since 2008. He asked after the family, so I told him the news. He was shaken, and said he cannot imagine how we're coping. He has a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old, and said, "I feel a great urge to go hug my kids right now".