Grief Appropriation?

Before I write this I want to assure you all that I am in no way trying to co-opt Mo’s tragedy and make it my own. I am not trying to make her pain about me and how it affects me. Mo’s is enduring a loss more devastating than I could ever imagine. My heart breaks for her but I know that my sorrow could never touch her own. Please know that in writing this I’m just trying to make sense of my own experience. I’m sorry if that offends anyone close to Mo. That is no my intent at all.

Last night I got a text from a very good friend, informing me of Mo’s loss. At first I was in shock. I texted back all the sentiments one would expect in a time like this but it hadn’t really hit me yet. Later, when I told Mi.Vida and he came over to hold me, the enormity of my friend’s loss hit me and I broke down into great, heaving sobs. You know, that kind of ugly crying that literally steals your breath and contorts your body beyond recognition.

The rest of the night I was in a daze, communicating with a few mutual friends of Mo’s, trying to determine what we could do to show our love and support. It’s so hard to know what to do when you feel so helpless, when you realize that ultimately you are so helpless and that there is not one thing you can do to actually ease your friend’s suffering.

Mi.Vida kept checking in on me, as I would randomly start crying here or there, for seemingly no reason at all. I could tell he was alternating between bewilderment, worry, and frustration. Before bed we talked a little bit about how both of us were feeling. I told him that I was heartsick, despondent, just so overwhelmingly sad for my friend. The magnitude of what she was losing, what she has already lost in her life, it’s just unfathomable. It’s so fucking unfair. I am afraid for her, for what she will have to endure. I can never know how it feels to lose what she has, simply contemplating it was more than I can bare. How will she possibly bare the reality of it?

Mi.Vida said he was worried about me. He didn’t want to see me taking on someone else’s grief. He didn’t want me giving into the fear that what was happening to her might happen to me one day. I understood his concern; he has seen me react poorly to the sad stories of many a blogger I hardly knew, he’s watched me internalize their tragedy and grief, twisting it into fear of the uncertainty of my own life.

I had a hard time convincing him that this was different. I wasn’t grieving for Mo because what happened to her might happen to me, I was grieving for Mo because she’s my friend and she is losing the most important thing in her life. She is losing something that just a week ago she acknowledged she could not survive losing. I am sad because a wonderful woman, who reached out to me when I felt the tendrils of depression grabbing hold of me again, who sent me Israeli chocolates to make me feel better, who accepted me and my feelings no matter what, is being made to endure a mother’s greatest nightmare, after already having done so three times before.

It isn’t about me, it’s about her, I tried to assure him.

The line between the two is very thin, he countered. I don’t think you realize.

Today I’ve walked around in a daze, unsure how to steady myself. I’m brittle to the touch, I snap easily and find myself staring into the unknowable distance. It’s not that I’m thinking constantly about Mo but the sadness is there, under the surface, always. I can tell Mi.Vida is becoming increasingly frustrated. We’ve talked more about whether or not my grief is appropriate. And if it is, does being a part of this community, which is welded together by loss and grief and struggle, ultimately offer enough light to make up for the darkness?

The truth is, sometimes I don’t know. What I do know is that my heart breaks for a woman I consider a friend, despite never having met her. What I do know is I am inspired by the love and support I see others willing, eager, desperate to give. What I do know is I feel honored to include my own efforts with theirs, to reach out to someone when she feels unreachable and alone.

What I do know is that the women in this community are stronger than I ever thought possible, that they persevere despite insurmountable odds, that they not only survive but thrive in the face of unimaginable loss. What I do know is that I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this community and that I am comforted knowing that they would be there for me if the unthinkable were to mark my own life.

How appropriate is the grief we feel for our fellow bloggers? Should there be a limit to that grief? Is the line between grieving for someone and making their grief our own as thin as Mi.Vida believes? If so, how do we stay on the right side of it? Is a community welded together by loss worth being a part of, or are the costs ultimately too high?

24 responses

  1. I think we feel what we feel, and that you can’t define what’s appropriate when it comes to grief. Especially in this community, where we can so quickly imagine ourselves where the other person is, I suspect we can empathize in a way that perhaps others might find more difficult. This isn’t to say that we’re appropriating another’s grief.

    However, I also suspect that when we find ourselves grieving for another blogger, there’s some part of us that grieves for ourselves … that perhaps expressing our feelings for another person’s tragedy allows us to more freely express what we feel about our own place, unrelated though it may be. Does that make sense? Where it becomes dangerous, I think, is when it becomes paralyzing.

    • And … what I didn’t say, but I hope is obvious … is that I think that we cultivate deep relationships here, because we put ourselves out here completely raw, vulnerable … we trust each other, and we hold each other close.

      There were two songs I listened to over and over again during my last miscarriage. They were “Iris” by the GooGoo Dolls and “I Grieve” by Peter Gabriel. The second song has a line about “the way we are tied in” that makes life carry “on and on and on” … this community is part of what it means to me to be tied in.

  2. Thank you for writing this. I have been so sick about Mo. I also broke out in the ugly sobs last night, I’ve snapped at Darcy and just cried absolute buckets while watching “The Descendants”. I had nightmares last night and I nearly threw up my breakfast this morning. I am just so angry and sad. And I’m worried that I am co-opting her pain. I felt similar about Marwil.

    Then again, someone commented on Rachel’s blog that they had been a lurker on Mo’s blog, rarely commenting, and they were crying at work and were shocked at how absolutely flattened they felt by this. Flattened is the exact right word.

    I guess when you read someone’s innermost thoughts for a year, they become an intimate friend to you. I feel like I would walk through fire for this community. I would take away pain, I would chip another tooth. You all are my sisters in sorrow and joy and lightness and darkness. When you laugh, I laugh. When your child is born healthy and sound, I rejoice. And when some tragedy like this happens, I weep. Because you all are part of my heart and soul and skin and plasma.

    • This may be the most beautiful comment I have ever read.

      And E, this post is incredible. I’m feeling you on everything you have written, and have been battling with the light outweighing the darkness for quite some time now.

      You’re an amazing woman, and I’m so glad that I know you and that you are in my life. The fact that you can feel such sadness for another human being’s suffering is a beautiful thing, not a tragic one.

  3. I must admit, it took me three tries to get through your post.

    (I’m going to be really honest now … hopefully that’s ok!)

    The first time, I was mad. Not at you, but just in general. I couldn’t keep reading.

    The second time (late last night), my anger at this whole situation turned to you; because I didn’t read the entire post I didn’t get the chance to understand what you were saying.

    This morning, the third time, I’m in tears. I feel like such a bi-och for my anger that was directed at you; everything you wrote was beautiful and heart felt. And … exactly what I was dealing with in my own personal relationships.

    The entire situation with Mo has completely turned me upside down. Mo was the one (I’m sure there are MANY out there that can say this) that helped bring me back after our miscarriage this summer; I too recieved a care package of Israeli chocolates (wonderful stuff!).

    I know chocolate isn’t the answer this time, though. I just wish I knew what was.

    Thank you for writing this; for being brave. For suffering through the anger from people like me, who didn’t finish reading the post the first two times. For that, I’m sorry.

  4. Okay, I’m going to stereotype here, but… Mi.Vida is a man. I think sometimes men confuse not expressing emotion as not feeling it – at least, my husband does. When I am sad, and crying, my husband always thinks that the solution is that I should STOP CRYING. Which, as we all know, won’t fix the problem at all. But he thinks that’s the end. Problem: wife is crying, wife is sad. Solution: wife should stop crying, and she won’t be sad.

    I think unless your grief for Mo is interfering with your ability to perform normal daily tasks like getting dressed, going to work, caring for your daughter, it is normal and healthy. It is solidarity and friendship. It is NOT a problem. In fact, Mo is lucky to have friends like you.

  5. I agree with the comments above. It certainly doesn’t help anyone if someone else’s loss causes you to lose perspective on your own life. Yet you have a right to feel whatever you’re feeling. I certainly remember a time or two being completely bummed out about what another url friend was going through. I’ve cried for women that I haven’t even had a connection to, I’ve just lurked on their blog. Guys don’t really get that In the end, though, after the tears, send your friend something that will make them smile a bit to let them know you’re thinking of them.

  6. I can give you an outside perspective as a non-(as far as I know) IF woman, but as a real-life, long-time friend of Mo’s: I cried off and on all afternoon yesterday and woke up this morning with tears in my eyes all over again. It’s not empathy, because I don’t know that pain, but it is deep, loving, legitimate sadness for my friend. Outwardly expressing that feeling is not wrong. It’s just life. Carry on.

  7. I feel like I could of written this myself. I truly do.

    I also am unable to really do much else in my day…I can’t afford to miss work, and if I do, do I tell them my friend in Israel who I know via the interwebs lost a baby and I feel the need to mourn? Because that is the truth.

    I think my biggest problem is how real all of this is…there is no reason a 31 year old woman should know this grief, and the amount of people saying, “I’ve been there” is overwhelming. No one should know this pain, whether through their own experience or via others.

  8. For those of us who bare our souls on these silly little things called blogs, the community, support and love are exactly what keeps us afloat. Despite having never met quite a few of my pretend friends, they share this journey with me.
    I can not comment on grief, I’m still trying to figure it out myself. 🙂

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  10. I experienced the same type of thing a little over a year ago when a blogger I don’t know, but have followed for years, lost one of her twins. I was in shock that I was so deeply in grief for someone I’d never met. I couldn’t go to work that morning because I couldn’t stop crying. My husband came home from an overnight work trip to find me sobbing in bed at 10:00 AM. He was bewildered, and hinted that my reaction was not normal. I wondered if he was right.

    Flash forward to now. I told him about Mo and Shmaby. He almost broke down himself, and has hugged our son extra close the last 24 hours. I think he still wonders why I am SUCH a wreck over it, but he “gets it” more than he did a year ago because he’s come to realize how much everyone’s blogs and stories bring and mean to me.

    Humans SHOULD feel compassion, right? It’s what makes us human. I don’t think there’s anything strange or inappropriate about how we’re all taking Mo’s situation. It’s heartbreaking.

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  12. The canyon of empathy that runs through this community is Marianas Trench deep. Its depth is one of the things that makes this community such a powerful, meaningful place. You are grieving a friend’s loss, E. Mo is your friend, regardless of having actually met face-to-face. These friendships we form here are REAL friendships, and it follows that the grief we feel for our friends here would be potent stuff. Trying minimize that grief is akin to minimizing the friendship, I feel.

    Conversely, this profound empathy we all have is also what can make our community a very, very sad place. I don’t know MO and I’ve never read her blog, and yet her story robbed me of my breath. THAT’S how strong the thread of empathy is in our community. Our compassion can become consuming. One thing I trust is that MiVida knows you better than any of us, and there might be a nugget of wisdom to his thinking–perhaps he understands better than anyone that your compassion and care can be a very consuming thing, and he simply wants to safeguard you in the way our loved ones do…

    Wishing you peace, friend. Keeping MO in my thoughts, too.

  13. Thank you for writing this… you got my thinking tonight.

    I had a friend loss in my life lose a baby this week, and it hit me hard. Hard in a way my husband has also questioned… I think when there is loss, it touches many people in different ways. And I think that is normal and human, but I wonder where that line is — then again, I truly wish for joy for my friends. I too imagine a long unfolding future with their baby. I am not grieving the same thing that my friends are, because i hoped of seeing my friends faces and meeting their baby and they were imaging their family… but we all lost something. And it can hurt like hell through the circles of people who loves and dreamed along side the family. both the joy and sorrow of life ripples out through the community that surrounds each of us… yet why do we not worry about appropriating the joy of friends the way we do the sorrow. How can I not be sad for my friend’s losses….

    I am so sorry for your friend and her husband.. and will take the rest of my thoughts over to my blog. Thank you for your words.. they meant a lot to me tonight over here a few more circles removed.

  14. My husband once said to me “you don’t understand. If I don’t want to think about something, I don’t.” Men! They seem to be able to do that – or, as Deborah pointed out, they at least think that by not expressing their emotions, they’re not feeling them. My response was “I wish I could do that. You don’t know how much I wish I could do that.”

    I think relationships such as those you have developed (and that I found on an ectopic message board) are so very intimate – we say things to each other that we possibly can’t say to anyone else in the world (the internet gives such wonderful anonymity at times) – that it is natural to feel strong emotions for others. Especially as their successes or losses are so intimately bound up with our own.

    It’s just important not to let your grief for her overwhelm you. And not to feel guilty when you find your sadness for your friend abating. Because it will. And it should. And then you can be there for her even more than you already are. Thinking of you both.

  15. I tried to explain this to my husband this morning. He said but you don’t even know her, but the thing is I do. I know her more intimately than I do my real life friends. I have been through her highs and lows. I have shared that moment she found out she was pregnant. We held each others hands when we miscarried and we emailed when we were having a bad day during our pregnancy. I might not “know” her in the real world sense but her loss is very real for all of us. It is hard to find that fine line between in real life and the internet. I can understand our husbands not wanting us to take on more grief when have already had so much in our small lives but we do because we know that when we truly need support, we don’t always find it in real life we find it here in this community and we take solace in each other and we know that they are always here to listen.

    So I am sorry for you loss and my loss too. The loss that hit upon our dear friend Mo. Because her success was our success too. And her loss is our loss too.

  16. What a heartbreaking loss. Although I had never read Mo’s blog until now (I will now and will offer her whatever support I can), I have been in tears several times reading other’s blogs and tweets in support of her. And even though I do not know her, or anything about her, my grief for her is real. I think however and whatever you need to do to process your grief for your friend is appropriate.

  17. This is a beautiful, and thought provoking post. I feel such grief for Mo…but I also feel grief for some very deserving women who have gotten BFNs this week…and early miscarriages…and all of it. I’m just mourning it all. Mo is special, and the way the community banded together is heartwarming. But at the same time…there are so many women out there who have suffered a similar loss that fell through the cracks. And I really wish that didn’t happen.

    I totally understand your disclaimer as well. I don’t want to write a post about anyone else’s loss. What I feel is a deep sadness and anger. It is the unfairness of this loss which cuts me to the bone. Mo has been so supportive of others, and she has already suffered through so much. We were all praying so hard for her, in our own fashion. And if our prayers all together weren’t enough to help her, how can they possibly help anyone?

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  19. You aren’t alone in feeling Mo’s pain. Although perhaps I haven’t felt it as deeply, I have tremendous guilt for continuing on with my pregnancy (at the same stage as hers, and Marwil’s for that matter). How badly I wish to share that gift of life.
    I have been lying awake at night, thinking of them, wishing …. but the baby inside of me has been kicking quite strongly now.. bringing me back to him, where my attention should be. My future, not theirs, however harsh that might sound.

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