If you’ve never heard of Ring Theory, aka Circles of Grief/Circles of Support, I highly recommend looking into it. Here’s my favorite quick and easy read explaining it http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407. Cliff notes: “Comfort in, dump out.” Comfort and support the people closer to a tragedy than you are; dump your emotional junk out to people who are farther away from it than you are.
So, now that we’re all on the same page, let me start by saying that I love this concept. When my brother, Alik, died 4 1/2 years ago, I wish more people would have understood this. I had people who I barely knew crying to me saying, “I just can’t believe it. It’s such a tragedy.” Yeah, no shit, thanks for letting me know. It was exhausting. Maybe it’s because my way of coping is to ride the shock wave as long as I can until I crash on the island of grief, where I’m forced to face the loss. Most of the time following my brother’s death, I appeared fine, even happy. It’s what I do. My happy facade also probably had something to do with the fact that I was so uncomfortable with death that somehow I would smile whenever I was faced with it. Like, “my baby brother shot himself” *huge grin*. It was like I was so uncomfortably that I didn’t know what to do with my hands, or my face, or my life. It was a whole thing. I don’t do it anymore, but only because I’ve been around death more. Still, my awkwardness did make me more understanding of other people’s completely asinine comments. Death makes people weird.
Anyway, back to the whole Ring Theory thing. When Alik, died, I was very protective of his memory. Sometimes I would get angry when people who I didn’t think were close with him displayed more grief than I thought appropriate. Like, he wasn’t your brother, you’re just trying to get attention. Don’t let me see you bubbling over with sadness because you didn’t earn that right while he was alive. Now I see how immature and insensitive that was, but I still allow my younger self the right to react however I wanted.
It was different when my mother-in-law, Kathy, died. I knew that she was special to so many people, but I found myself feeling more protective of her husband and kids. Like, sure, be sad but don’t dump your emotional crap on the people who are feeling this the most.
It’s been very different with Gregg. I recently had a conversation with someone who was very close with Gregg, probably second only to me. He felt badly about sharing with me what a hard time he was having. I quickly explained that everyone was entitled to grieve and that it didn’t bother me to hear about his, or anyone else’s pain. On some level I do feel like I feel Gregg’s loss the most, but then I know that he was so special to so many people. And I sort of want to see everyone be sad, regardless of how close they were to him. I know, that sounds weird. But I almost appreciate it when people dump their emotional pain on me. Maybe it’s because I’ve been around the tragedy block before, maybe it’s that misery loves company. I don’t know. But it is sort of comforting in a weird way. Like, whew, I’m not the only one that feels as if the world has stopped turning; I’m not alone. There have still been a few people that I want to throat punch, but only for legitimately over-stepping boundaries, sometimes bulldozing them completely. Those people can go to hell. But don’t worry, if you’re reading this, you’re not one of them.
I feel like this post has been a bit all over the place, but so have I lately. I guess my point is that I do think it’s super important to be respectful to others when tragedy strikes, but that we’re not put on a totem pole of grief. Just because losing Gregg was the worst thing that I’ve experienced doesn’t mean that losing him wasn’t the worst thing that someone else has experienced.