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The Wariness of Grief

The Wariness of Grief

I am from the South. My parents were both Southerners. I have never lived outside the South, in spite of the fact that some would claim Northern Virginia, where I lived for almost 40 years, is not really “part of the South.” I maintain that it is.

Friendliness is an entrenched southern virtue. I was indoctrinated in friendliness from a young age. It also happened to be an easy fit with my natural personality and disposition. My husband alleges I can “talk to a post.” He’s probably right about that.

For my whole life, I have had many friends in many places; friends from childhood, friends from college, friends from work, friends who were neighbors. I made friends walking my dog; I made friends riding the subway. Once my children were born, I made friends with the parents of their friends, made friends with their teachers, made friends with other PTA parents and so on. Many, many friends. Obviously, I was closer to some than others. I maintained more regular contact with some than others

I did have some experience with betrayal and rejection, but it was not so intense or so painful as to make me abandon my natural open friendliness. It took losing my son to do that.

I am different now. I think I am still friendly in neutral situations, but it is a guarded friendliness. When I walk the dog, I still greet everyone I meet on the street. I have conversations with many, but these are short, superficial conversations. (These are not to be confused with conversations I may have had with strangers on the street in my most acute days of grief. In those days, I occasionally wept on the shoulders of strangers.)

I have become wary of people.

I am wary of new people. It takes a certain set of circumstances, sometimes forced, for me to even confess to new people that I have lost a child. When contractors come to my house, I take down lots of photos and hide them so I’m not asked questions about any of the shrines to my son. It is rare for me to have such a feeling of safety with someone new that I choose to let them in on my secret.

Sadly, experience has taught me to be wary even of people I’ve known a long time. I have been surprised by those I was formerly close to who have hurt me or disappointed me. Or who have disappeared. So, I wear my mask and conduct myself carefully.

Recently, I came across this quote:

“Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.” -Dinah Maria Mulock Craik

 So, under what circumstances do I feel this comfort? I feel it with my sister, with a few old friends, but mostly, I feel it with the other bereaved parents I’ve come to know through The Compassionate Friends.

~Peggi Johnson

Piedmont, VA TCF

Peggi Johnson

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Comments (2)

  • I can so identify with this. I too have become less outgoing. My son Stephen was also 19 when he died of suicide. As a teacher it is becoming very difficult to do my job because I don’t want to make connections with the students or parents.

  • Two and a half months after the stillbirth of my grandson Sammy, I can see that I am definitely more guarded with people because hardly anyone knows what to make of such a calamity — and by even mentioning it, I feel like I am causing whoever I am talking to unnecessary discomfort. Also, since Sammy’s life/death, I don’t know who I am anymore because I don’t know what I believe anymore. I’m having to rebuild my entire comprehension of what existence is all about. I’m just not as “out there” as I used to be because I feel like the ground has totally shifted under my feet.

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