“I was so sorry to hear that your father died,” was probably one of the worst lines you could have said to me in 2010. I hated nothing more than other people’s pain in the months after my father passed. At best, it was an unpleasant reminder of what I was trying to put in the back corners of my mind. At worst, it was akin to spitting in my face. How could you possibly compare your pain to my pain?
“Hey, so I heard about your leg getting amputated. I stubbed my toe once, it was pretty rough.”
A lot of my older friends picked up on this, and there are a lot of relationships I have where my father’s death is never explicitly brought up. Instead, he is just a string of happy memories that abruptly end at a certain point on the timeline.
However, I have been drawn to other people’s accounts of my father’s death recently. In 2015, apparently, I would love to hear about how you cried when you heard the news. Where were you? Was it over the phone or in person? Did you tell your loved ones? What kind of food did you eat later that day? I find it comforting to imagine other people mourning my father. I think that I am proud of how far his outreach extended. I remember being overwhelmed at how busy his memorial service was; but now I look back on it fondly. I mean, look at how many people were there? So many! What a beautiful occasion.
Maybe, I like to hear other people talk about feeling the loss of my father, because it makes me feel less alone. I still mourn every day, and it’s isolating. I want to channel a time where my grief gave me something in common with those in my environment, instead of a secret burden to choke down at dinner parties; something awkward I bring up in conversation that makes everyone sad. It sounds ridiculous, but hearing about the time of my dad’s death from the perspective of another is like receiving a reassuring pat on the shoulder, or a warm hug. But don’t actually make physical contact with me; I’m not ready for that. Maybe in 2020 I’ll want a hug.
This voyeuristic comfort ceases when we reach the circle of people who were very close with my father. Thinking about their loss drives me into a muddy world of pain and guilt. I can’t imagine what my uncles go through, having lost a brother. Thinking about that makes me cry in the most immature fashion possible. No tears of solidarity, they’re tears of “please make this all go away.”
I guess hearing about someone else’s pain only feels good when I am confident that said pain is less poignant than my own. My present inability to cope with the loss that my family members have experienced shows my limits. I crave anecdotes from acquaintances because I envy their pain. It’s soft and fuzzy, dulled by time and distance. My pain is perpetual. Another year since my dad died is also another year since the last time I saw him. Another year since the last time we watched a movie together, or shared a meal, or hugged. The future is a wonderful thing, and I have much ambition for it, but a part of me sees 2015 as another year of bitterly missing someone I loved more than anything.
Foolishly, I think that by acknowledging someone else’s pain over my father, I could replace my own with something easier to swallow.