Beth in a William Adolphe Bouguereau pointing

beth chicago art institute IMG_0148
William Adolphe Bouguereau
French, 1825-1905
The Bathers, 1884
Oil on canvas
200.7 x 128.9 cm (79 x 50 3/4 in.)

I merged Beth in a William Adolphe Bouguereau painting of a nude for an icon years ago, and she laughed but was a little weirded out. She never told me not to use it, though, and I think liked the icon, later. So, I’m hoping she’d be fine with this. Although, Beth was thin.

It’s not about your love for your living significant other

I fear posting this because some friends might think I’m addressing this at them. Really, though, I’m writing for anyone who knows someone that has experienced a great loss.

Repeatedly, I hear people say, either to me or about someone in a similar situation, “There’s no way I could do it. I couldn’t live without (‘fill-in-the-blank).” or worse, “I’d kill myself. I couldn’t go on without him/her. If I didn’t die of a broken heart first, I’d take my own life.”

That’s a very Romeo-and-Juliette-level romanticism, and I know people are trying to express their love for their own significant other, but as many of you would immediately recognize, that’s not at all how it comes off. What the grieving person hears is, “You must not have loved them enough since you’re still alive.”

If you want to support someone in their grief, don’t make the moment about you. Yes, certainly you can say, “I have no idea what you’re going through. I can’t even imagine.” There’s truth in that. I realized I actually had no idea until I found myself in a similar situation, and I’ve always thought of myself as a empathetic person.

Basically, I don’t believe it’s ever helpful to tell people how you’d feel, or what you’d do, in their situation.

Listen. Understand. Demonstrate empathy.

No one’s pain or grief is anyone’s but their own. Don’t mistake that fact that we all experience grief (so therefor grief is universal), with the specific experience/loss that person is dealing with.

I hope this is helpful to someone out there. I really do. It’s really not meant to be criticism. It’s a plea for understanding.

Overly grand and romantic statements about your love for someone else isn’t really helpful to the person that has lost someone important to them.

That’s it. That’s all I really want to say, right now.

Peace, love, and understanding.