A Note on the Silence of Grief


The hardest part of grieving is having nothing to say. Sitting in the living room with your stepmom and trying to explain how you’re doing with “Dad” (now more a concept worthy of quotation marks than simply a person no longer alive) and finding it incredibly difficult to select any words. How am I doing? I can’t describe it—I can never really describe it.

My friends check in, too, or people I haven’t seen in a while offer up their condolences, and no appropriate response arises. Usually I avert my eyes, fall back on something trite and overly-general: “it sucks” or “it’s okay.” I focus more on choreographing the conversation for their comfort (don’t stay on this topic too long, now) than thinking deeply about the fission in my own.

I ask the same of my siblings and receive a similar silence—and not for lack of volume, we’re all quite good at raising that. It’s uncomfortable to watch them struggle, as I do, to sum it up… to watch them recognize, as well, that no answer is satisfactory. The deep breath, the averted eyes, the shrugged shoulders, the usual sarcastic salve (“It’s just great!”).

But something in that shared wordlessness has brought us closer, I think, has honed our ability to understand each other even when that understanding is centered around all that we don’t have to say. It’s made it difficult to look at each other without recognizing what we’ve lost, but kept us looking at each other perhaps a little longer. We’ve learned to fill what we don’t know with what we do—namely, when “Dad” is on our minds, or when one of us is about to cry.

For me it’s a sharp silence, a sudden inability to participate in the conversation, followed by an embarrassingly loud burst. For Amy, it’s more a slow fade, her words becoming wobbly before giving way to tears. For Zach, it’s a far away stare, focused so intently on the distance in an effort (I suspect) not to give in to what he’s feeling. For Zoe, it’s quiet, almost inaudible—something you see much more than you hear. For Annie, a dive into someone’s lap is often required, a need (I think) to feel something when faced with all of the “nothing quite right” we have to say. Gabe, the youngest, seems to dabble in all, perhaps the most confused of the bunch, the most unsure of what Dad’s absence means for his future.

We all carry that specific weight with us—not just how it’s affecting Gabey, but how it’s affecting each of us, individually. We spread it all on top of our own sadness, and walk around simply hoping not to slip. And we don’t slip—not really, at least. We stare and we wonder and we pick and choose our words, perpetually dissatisfied with the results, but gliding by on them… knowing our limits—that they’re all we’ve got.

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