I drove Molly back to college on Friday. We laughed much of the drive, happy to be on this road trip on a fine, bright day, enjoying the landscape and each other’s company with a soundtrack acceptable to both of us (Amy Winehouse Pandora station). Occasionally I turned the music down to better hear Molly’s stories about friends and random school anecdotes including this one that put a lump in my throat.
A buddy recently asked her advice – cautiously – with the caveat that Molly needn’t answer if she didn’t feel comfortable. Oh, no, Molly thought, what weirdness will this be about? The friend wanted to know what she could do for a friend whose father had just died. She said, “I just feel so awful!” Molly, relieved not to hear anything weird, and not in the slightest bit uncomfortable, gave her friend great advice.
“Remember that this isn’t about YOU. It doesn’t matter that you feel awful or that you’re sorry. It made me mad when people told me they were sorry. Why were they sorry? It wasn’t their fault – why should they say they are sorry? What was I supposed to say to that? There is nothing you can say that will make it better for someone. Just let them know you are there. That’s it. Just don’t make it about you. And don’t tell them about when your hamster died!”
Molly’s understanding of grief impresses me – although it will always make me sad she acquired it so young. She gets it that grief is a place unto itself. There is no rescue possible – not at first. I credit her understanding and the roadmap to peace, largely to The Den for Grieving Kids where she realized that there were plenty of other kids her age who’d lost their parents, some, also by suicide. She learned early that she wasn’t alone and how it is possible to talk – or sometimes not – about loss. (More about The Den in this post.)
Today’s New York Times Magazine has is this fine piece by a woman whose mother committed suicide. The author was just 2. Unfortunately, she lacked Molly’s support system and instead lived unnecessarily with her sad secret until now. Imagining the child she was breaks my heart. Here from Jessica Lamb-Shapiro’s lovely essay: “...I’ve told this story a few times since then. Sometimes I like to entertain the grandiose notion that I’m doing something noble by telling it, teaching the world’s silent orphans an important lesson about openness and connecting with others. But the real reason I tell the story is that I still need to hear it.”
Yes, we must let the light in on secrets. We need to tell and hear each other’s stories because there is comfort in knowing we are not alone.