Monday, February 28, 2011

Two Kinds of People

Alas, I didn't win Susan Bearman's writing challenge, the one that inspired me to run my own contest. (This fine entry was her winner.  I have to admit that I am "the same kind" as the writer.) I wasn't really expecting to win, because Susan is a talented essayist, and while I am a good writer, the classic essay is not my strong suit. My best writing tends to be more visceral and more poetic than the typical essay. Oh, well: Maybe next year.

Nonetheless, I am very pleased with my entry to her contest, and I am proud to publish it myself.

There are two kinds of people in this world: Widows and those who don't know what to say.

Yes, there are two kinds of people in this world.
  • Those who say, "He's in a better place now," and those who know that there could be no better place than snuggled up together on the sofa.
  • Those who say, "It's all part of God's plan," and those who want nothing to do with a God who plans senseless deaths at the wheel of a drunk driver.
  • Those who say, "You're young; you'll find someone else," and those who know that nobody else could ever fill the huge hole in their heart.
  • Those who say, "She fought the good fight," and those who know that there is no such thing as a good fight against cancer.
  • Those who say, "At least you have the kids," and those who can't bear the thought of the 2-year-old boy who will never know his daddy.
  • Those who say, "At least you don't have kids," and those who can't believe they never had the chance to create life with the love of their lives.
  • Those who say, "God needed another angel," and those who think their children need their mom a hell of a lot more than God could ever need another member of the celestial choir.
  • Those who say, "He wouldn't want you to be crying every day," and those who want to say, "He wouldn't want to be dead, either."
Yes, there are two kinds of people in this world.
  • Those who say, "You're so strong," and those who are curled in a ball whimpering where the kids won't hear them.
  • Those who say, "You're so brave," and those for whom getting out of bed is an act of sheer will.
  • Those who say, "You're such an inspiration," and those who stare blankly at the wall wondering what on earth they're supposed to do now.
Yes, there are two kinds of people in this world:
  • Those who don't think they could ever handle such a tragedy, and those who know that every successful marriage ends in death.

Truth in advertising: This isn't exactly what I submitted to the contest. Every time I looked at it, I tweaked a word here and a word there. In fact, I just now -- 20 minutes after posting it on my blog -- rewrote the first line completely. Oh, well. I am a work in progress, and so is my writing.

I also feel like I should add a personal note: My head isn't all-widowhood-all-the-time, but I needed to write about what I know. I actually don't think I could have written this piece when I was feeling it most acutely; if I'd tried, it would have come out with a lot of anger and bitterness ... and those feelings would have poisoned the writing.


  1. Alicia, you should be pleased with your entry. You did a great job. Thank you so much for submitting.

    Susan Bearman
    Two Kinds of People

  2. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. I wish there was some way of "getting it" without getting it.


  4. I think you should have won. The subject that won was certainly a lot "lighter" than your subject. I didn't identify with the winning essay at all, because I have never even cared about wearing a scarf!

  5. I know you already know this but it's way too easy to divide people into this and that camps. Event the most annoyingly rigid people have shades of grey and jump around from camp to camp.

    And it's not fair to dismiss people's insights into tragedy or loss as being a dgi. I believe that sometimes death does leave the person better off. My LH was certainly better off dying than he was trapped in a vegetative state. And I think that at a certain point in many illnesses, people are better off being let go than be urged to "fight".

    Of course, I agree with you about the heaven and angel nonsense but that's, to me, an indication of people's fear and need to find comfort. Funerals, after all, are not about the dead or really even the family, it's the only moment that the extended allow themselves to think and feel about what's happened for the most part. I don't begrudge anyone (anymore) the opportunity to move on rapidly.

    I am not surprised something lighter won the day. Light is usually the preference of blog readers.

  6. We just proposed t-shirts that say, "Well, maybe someday you'll be in a better place, too."

  7. I wrote the scarf essay, but I must say, I was moved by yours... quite a bit. The "right thing to say" is almost impossible in situations involving sadness. Sometimes silence is best but I guess we all feel like silence doesn't say what's in our hearts so we keep trying. I hope that the recipients of these messages understand that although our feet may be in our mouths, our hearts are in the right place.

  8. Debby, thanks for coming over, reading, and commenting.

    Your comment is totally accurate:

    There is, so often, no "right thing to say" to a grieving person, and silence would often be best. Unfortunately, our culture - with its constant noise and babble of distractions -- isn't comfortable with silence. Add to that discomfort our desire to sanitize death, and you have well-meaning people saying things that make the newly bereaved want to scream.

    On the flip side, in their grief, people often have a hard time recognizing the good will behind the words: They see only their pain and loss and they react to the most harmless of words from that pain.

    There is so much more I could say, both criticizing and defending both the mourner and the comforter. Suffice it to say that in stressful times, neither party is always thinking clearly.

  9. Very thoughtful post on conveying sympathy. Thanks for sharing!