About a year ago we lost a dear friend. He was a dad and he died suddenly and too young. The shock rippled through our social network.
I won’t share the whole story because it’s not my story to tell.
But the loss of this dear soul taught me an interesting thing about how people grieve. I am young and fortunate enough to have not experienced many instances of community-shared loss. But last year’s sadness showed me that people grieve like they live. And that’s cool with me.
If you often manage events and people, you will manage and organize grieving situations.
If you tend to withdraw and be quiet, that grief will go inward.
If you are sometimes the center of attention, you will grieve loudly in and public.
These are all good ways to grieve. Just get it out, man.
As part of the ripple effect I also learned something about my own style of grieving. It happened at my kid’s soccer game.
Here is the story.
The day after we found out about our friend, my middle kid had an indoor soccer game, aka futsol. Parking in the Mission was nuts, so I dropped off 3/5 of my family and took the toddler to park the car.
On the way in to the gym I ran into a dad friend who had also dropped off his family, parked the car, and was carrying his own toddler. We communed and bonded and cried a little bit while trying to keep our little ones from trouncing through the dog poop and weird trash that line the Mission sidewalks.
Emotion and stress make my head fuzzy, I learned. And not just my crazy wheat bran hair. My actual brain gets fuzzy.
I entered the gym in a daze, the noise and lights confounding my senses and bleary eyes. In my stupor I didn’t even realize that my daughter’s team wasn’t playing yet. The previous game had just ended and parents were still milling about and chatting, blocking the audience view from the bleachers.
Did I mention that I my head was fuzzy?
I wandered up to the group of chatty parents and asked if they wouldn’t mind moving because we couldn’t see our kids play.
AND THEY WENT SHITSHOW ON ME.
“You need to calm down!” yelled a tall white guy who probably lives in Cole Valley. (Yes, that is my explicit bias and I own it.)
“Jesus Christ, lady!” barked another one. He glared at me with the wrath of a thousand preschool parents trying to get into Rooftop.
Slow clap for San Francisco parenting one-upmanship at its worst.
Yes, I was wrong. (Did I mention that my head was fuzzy because my friend just died?) No, my kid’s game hadn’t started yet.
But their reaction was completely out of proportion for my minor infraction.
I stumbled back up into the bleachers, red-faced at my error and humiliated, as a small women being talked down to by some jacked up SF dads who thought they needed to put me in my place. I crawled to the top row, put my face in my hands and cried. Hard. I peeked through the snot and saw the chatty parents sneer at me. Mortifying.
After the game I told the whole story to my husband.
He suggested that I look at the instance as a reminder of our friend’s beautiful gift to see the perspective of others. This guy, this friend we lost, he had many inspiring qualities that I could go on about. But, remember, his is not my story to share.
I will say that he was excellent at trying to see the point of view of other people. He did empathy well. He once helped me broker a school lobby fight regarding a drag queen and proper poster design for the school carnival. And even though one of the people in that fight was one of his best friends, he worked diplomacy like a pro.
The irony of that mean soccer dad situation was that no one could see the other side’s point of view. I was too goofy and out of it with grief to realize that I was wrong or even apologize. And maybe the mean dads just had a bad loss, maybe someone’s kid got hurt, maybe they had dealt with their own mean dad from another team.
We say that there is no right or correct way to grieve. But one good way to grieve may be to try and model the behaviors that you love in the person that is gone.
I will try to do better. In memory of my friend. And for who I want to be.