Conversations in Grief Blog: Why Honesty?
In January, I wrote a blog about my experience of being COVID positive. The response to the blog was unexpected. I invited others to share their story, and many did. People were authentic as they shared feelings of isolation. Forced to quarantine from her husband, one woman longed for the comfort of his touch. Another shared her guilt of exposing her older parents and having them get sick with COVID as well. No one judged or condemned anyone else. It was simply a space for sharing stories and experiences. I expressed to my daughter my surprise at the number of people who shared their stories. My daughter responded, “Isn’t it amazing how vulnerability can pull people together?”
I hadn’t identified what I had done in telling my story as being vulnerable, but my daughter had it right. Vulnerability invites vulnerability, and the result is people connecting, pulling together, as my daughter noted. Shared understanding and shared compassion. Vulnerability allows us to say what is true for us: I’m hurting, I feel guilty, I miss him, I miss her, I’m overwhelmed.
Vulnerability creates space for a non-judgment zone, a place of honesty. Our judgment often comes from ourselves: “I shouldn’t be feeling this sad or devastated, so I better not admit the depth of my sadness to others.” We believe we are protecting others, but we end up isolating ourselves and isolating other people, who may be lost in just as much pain as we are experiencing. Many families who are grieving a loss together tend to protect each other from their individual grief experiences. They hide their tears. They believe that they must show up as “strong” for the rest of their family. Strong is never the goal of grieving. Grief is what we have left when someone we love dies. Our person may have died, but our love for them lives on and even grows. This is our grief. If we can frame our grief in this way, the word strong no longer applies. Grief is cherished and nourished. Grief is our friend, suggests Alan Wolfelt (a noted author, educator, and grief counselor).
If we choose to be vulnerable and honest about the pain of our grief instead of choosing to be strong and silent, we offer a gift to the other people in our lives. Our vulnerability will pull a family together. Our vulnerability is permission-giving. Go ahead and grieve. Be sad. Cry.
Vulnerability requires courage. I think it’s worth the risk because it may reap healing for yourself and those around you. There is another benefit of speaking your grief vulnerably: you are also speaking and honoring the life of your loved one and the difference that person made in your life. Their memory lives into the present through your vulnerability.
People responded to my story with their own stories because I opened myself up, and it made room for them to open up. When we tell the truth, the hope is that others will hear and comfort us. Then others tell the truth, and we hear and comfort them. Grief that is such a heavy burden when carried alone becomes lighter when shared.