Grieving From Afar
Last week, someone I knew died.
I’d known her for six years, but we were never close. Our one connection was a mutual friend who introduced us for business reasons.
After we completed our brief professional relationship, I saw this woman only once again. In fact, I only knew about her health struggles because the aforementioned friend told me a year ago, when I randomly asked about her. I wouldn’t even have known about her passing had my friend not told me.
I’m really not sure how to refer to this woman. She wasn’t a friend, but then again, “professional acquaintance” seems so… distant. The difference she made in my life was immense, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for her.
And maybe that’s why the whole experience has been… weird. I haven’t shed any tears for this woman, and to claim that I’m distraught would be disingenuous. Yet, I am saddened by her passing. I want to say this to her family. I want to hug her husband and kids and offer my sympathies, to let them know how she touched my life, even so briefly.
Still, it’s not my place to do so.
Her family has been very private about all this, and I’m pretty sure I’m not “supposed” to know what she went through. I’m glad our mutual friend told me, but I want to respect the family’s privacy. And I certainly don’t want to “out” my friend.
But more than that, I feel so inept when it comes to doling out sympathy to people who aren’t particularly close to me. If a close friend needs my shoulder, I’m there. I know what to do, I know how to feel.
But when it’s someone I had only a tenuous connection to, I never know where that line between sympathy and respect for privacy lies. I never know how much support is appropriate to offer, or even how to offer it. I suck at distant sympathy. I suck at grieving from afar. When it comes to grief, I’m either all-in or all-out. And that bothers me a little.
Over the past week, I go about my daily life as usual, and she pops into my mind maybe once or twice a day. I wonder what she experienced over the past year. I wonder how she lived out the last few months of her life, knowing how little time she had left. I wonder how she felt during her final moments. I wonder how her family is holding up.
But, they’re barely more than passing thoughts. I never met her family, after all. I don’t even have faces to picture in my mind when I think about her kids.
Minutes later, I’m back at my usual tasks. And my mind returns to my own life. It’s just life as usual — or unusual — for me.
Hours pass, and she pops into my mind again. And I feel a slight tinge of frustration for not being more sad.
I even set aside my usual agnostic tendencies and start wondering where she might be now, or if she might possibly be feeling better.
I start wishing there’s some way for me to pay my respects to her. Humans grieve socially, but I’m on my own on this one. And no, that’s not a complaint. I’m grieving on my own because, truthfully, my grief is infinitesimal compared to the grief her family and her “real” friends must feel. My solitary grief is not worthy of theirs.
That’s why I’m writing this, I guess. Maybe this is how I pay my respect. Maybe this is how we can offer sympathy from a distance — by taking a few moments out of the self-imposed hecticness of our daily lives and offering even the most trivial of tributes.
Only one person out there will understand who this is about, but maybe that’s all that matters.
And who knows? Maybe she is out there somewhere….
And she’s reading this….
And she knows how grateful I am to have known her.