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Second Thoughts on BlogHer

“People who say blogging isn’t important can kiss my ass!”

–Annisa at BlogHer10 during the blogging through grief and loss session.

I’m back home now, and my thoughts and pictures are now coming to you wholly out of order based on what is on my mind as I sit down at the computer.  I have a lot of pictures to download from the camera, a lot of stories to still tell.

Instead of keeping in order, I will jump over Friday and land in the middle of Saturday afternoon.

It is impossible to sit through an hour-long discussion on grief and loss without a lump in your throat.  It is impossible not to grieve with the person as they describe their loss, and it is equally impossible to not think of the people you know who aren’t here.  When there is a five-minute discussion on death, you can skate through the words without your body reacting.  But sit with a discussion on loss for an hour, and you will find that your neck changes.

It felt important to be there, as if there was only one possible place I could be during this session slot.  Though I couldn’t tell you why.  I think my main reason to be there was for Cecily because I don’t think she has been allowed to grieve as deeply and as cleanly (or, perhaps a better term, messily) as she needs.  I think people stick their hands in her grief by turning her loss into a political issue.  And because of that, I wanted to be there and have her see that tangible support because I love her.  And the reason could be, I decided, as simple as that.

Someone expressed before the session that she was afraid the session would become a cult of grief — not the panel so much as the audience.  Because the Internet has a tendency to do that.  We do it and we need to own it.  We start reading someone after the loss occurs because we see everyone else reading them.  And suddenly we are there, talking about it, grieving with them, jumping into the loss — and we take it to a deep place even though our connection rises out of a shallow trench.  I’ve written about how others process your loss on the Internet before.

(Sidenote: I am not talking about grieving along someone you have known — even online friends — but opening up the relationship with grief.)

And is it wrong to jump into a stranger’s grief?  Well, yes and no.  I mean, I have passed by someone in pain in a public space, someone I don’t know at all, and I have sat down and spoken with them and listened to their story and cried with them, and said goodbye and moved on.  Because we’re human and many of us cannot see someone in pain and simply walk by.  We can do the same on the Internet with words as our virtual hug.

With the exception of the fact that support often comes initially and then disappears except for a random few, I don’t think there is much negative that comes to the griever who mourns with the support of the Internet.  Some have said that there can never be a negative side of support, but I think there is for those who observe an outpouring of support and then later grieve and don’t receive that support they noticed earlier on given to other people.

In other words, I don’t think support can ever damage the grieving person, but I think it can damage the future griever when the future griever notices what can sometimes become a cult of grief — an outpouring that goes well beyond the initial reach of the griever in terms of how many people they know or who know them — but the future griever doesn’t receive that same kind of support for their own pain.

Which, of course, is not to say that those outpouring shouldn’t happen for the first griever, but simply to be mindful of the future grievers as well.  That all people deserve support.

I think this session did the same good work that Glow in the Woods does — it provided a space for people to sit with their own grief, to get comfortable with the idea of reaching out to another person and comfort them, to discovering the right and wrong things to say.

I managed to not cry until Eden spoke.  I don’t know why.  She wasn’t even saying anything particularly upsetting, but I was remembering this night when Josh and I were at the food store and I was telling him about a post with Dave’s cancer and AA meetings and I’m not sure what else, and I remember standing near the dead chicken part section of the food store (apologies, as a vegetarian, I mentally divide the food store into edibles and dead things) and sobbing while I told him about something that moved me in that post, and I was suddenly reminded of it hearing her speak and I felt the tipping point occur, where the tears finally came.

And was it — as the person who raised the question of the cult of grief also feared — what amounts to a grief boner?  Well, no.  It wasn’t.  It was catharsis.  It was full circle.  It was coming home again.  I can say that because I lived it and I know how it felt in the moment.

Annisa said the quote at the top of the post and it’s true.  Blogging is important.  And possibly an even more brilliant quote came from Kim who said, “I don’t talk about it like this [and pointed to her mouth], I talk about it like this [and pretended to type].”

And that is perhaps the most important message I took away from both the panel and the hug that came from Eden at the end of the talk.  That there is a reason we all write and it is because we need to write in order to make sense of our world.  Our words are out there just as much for ourselves as they are for others.

And that is perhaps also the source for placing our hands in someone else’s grief.  Because we know how our grief feels in our body (and everyone experiences personal grief), and perhaps, when we involve ourselves in another person’s grief, we are merely touching their grief to see if it feels similar to our own.  And it is just another small echo of “me too” that we take and give.

19 comments

1 tash { 08.09.10 at 10:00 am }

I wrote about this long, long ago — how there were those in the ‘sphere who shunned us and turned away from fear mainly, and perhaps a bit of jinxiness, or leprosy. Or maybe all of the above. I made the analogy of a fishbowl, which is apt given your description: there are those who give it a passing glance, those who occasionally stop to toss some flakes in, and then there are those — like you — who just jump in the tank with us. I know it made me feel less like a vampire-alien and more like a person when “normal” people could just come and be with me.

I think these sessions are important, and our blogs are important because the more people know about loss the more likely they are to understand grief. If people got grief, and it creeped them out less, and they weren’t afraid to sit with someone else’s for a while (not just be a voyeur to it, but really look them in the eye and hold their hand for a spell), the world would be a better place. They’d know what to expect when they encountered it either in a friend, or a loved one, or themselves. Ultimately, people who experience great loss would feel less alone and less marginalized. That’s a good thing.

Thanks so much Mel for being one who abides, not just last weekend but as long as I’ve had the pleasure of knowing you.

2 luna { 08.09.10 at 10:31 am }

lovely post, and yes, what tash said.

I think its the difference between being a mere voyeur (akin to slowing down to inspect the details of a roadside crash) to abiding with compassion (maybe sitting by the side of the road to wait with someone until help arrives).

3 Angie { 08.09.10 at 1:38 pm }

Wow, absolutely it. We put our hands in someone else’s grief to see if it feels like our own. That panel sounds amazing. Obviously, I think Tash knows what she is talking about. She is brilliant in her assessment. And I agree there is something magical about someone visiting my blog or my writing who isn’t grieving who says, “You have helped me understand grief and loss a little.” That feels like something. It feels important.

And to answer you question, as a griever, yes I think it is okay for a stranger to jump into someone’s grief. I came to this community grieving, trying to connect, looking for validation and connection and so everyone I met here, I met in grief and vice versa, and have forged friendships that I cannot imagine not having now. I gave support to everyone, because I saw a little of me in every person, and now I have scaled back a bit to where my grief and their grief intersect, or when someone gives me new ways of seeing my grief, and then of course, offering support during difficult times.

I’m trying to wrap my brain around this idea of Cult of Grief. Is it kind of saying, correct me if I am wrong, is that there are popular people who grieve and get twenty-five comments and everyone thinks their grief makes them amazingly insightful, and others, who have equally amazing and insightful posts on grief, get four? And we need to remember the person with four? Or is it perhaps that someone becomes popular simply by dint of their grief, rather than anything more, or offering anything new in the ways of looking at or processing grief, and when the crisis and grief has settled, then loses their following?

I don’t know if I like this term Cult of Grief, even though I have definitely felt in my own life like there are these grief mongers or grief stalkers that haven’t gone through loss who somehow talk about me and my loss as a reflection on them and their compassion. But for me as someone embroiled in grief as a state of being, I feel ever so grateful when I get someone who says, YES, whether they have lost, or do it ever again, or do it to get to heaven, because grief is a lonely business, and having someone connect with me feels also important.

Thank you, Mel, for this today. I needed to think about this.

4 loribeth { 08.09.10 at 2:00 pm }

Great post — I agree with Tash & Luna.

I didn’t check the agenda for the conference this year — glad to hear they had such a session. Was it videotaped?

5 Justine { 08.09.10 at 3:52 pm }

Mel, what a wonderful, thought-provoking post. I, too, joined this community partly in grief, and found it comforting to “touch [others’] grief”; but I didn’t feel like I was “jumping into” it, because I had been invited there, simply by virtue of the fact that the grief was in a public space that actively solicits comments. This is different for me than seeing someone grieving, not knowing what whether I am welcome in that space.

The “cult of grief” is not a phenomenon endemic to blogging, I think; even in real life, there are people whose freezers fill with casseroles after a crisis, and people who sit and weep alone.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I started blogging. After all, there are plenty of food blogs and mommy blogs and pregnancy blogs and WOHM blogs and people who take better pictures and write more eloquently than I do. And the only thing I can say to justify myself is that I blog for me, and hope that it touches someone else. So when we grieve online, we are typing … it is an intensely private act … but in a public space where we hope that perhaps it can be of some use. And it is: see above, my point about joining this community in the first place.

I feel like this is a bit jumbled, but I hope it makes sense to someone besides me. :)

6 a { 08.09.10 at 3:54 pm }

My problem is that I feel like Luna’s voyeur if I don’t really connect with the person grieving. I feel like it might be almost insulting to leave a comment (probably based on my own feelings regarding insincere expressions of feelings, such as Happy Birthday! or Congratulations! that everyone says even when they don’t give a flying crap – I’d rather just not hear it at all. And that is why I don’t celebrate my birthday).

I know that you think it’s better to say something than nothing – and that’s probably because you are a much more compassionate and empathetic person than I am. So, I have tried to learn from you and comment to at least let people know that someone read their expression of grief and spent at least a few moments holding their hand.

7 Barb { 08.09.10 at 4:09 pm }

Hugs and may I someday get there. :) And I promise to be more wholly in my brain next time you contact me. (Still kicking myself over that!)

8 Vee { 08.09.10 at 4:15 pm }

It’s sounds like an amazing session. I am sure I would have sobbed through the whole thing.

I have found through my grieving process that the comments that a left might not be regular readers but they are people that have gone through similar situations and can relate to my grief. Not only does it help me but I think helps them to write down their stories.

You and Eden together…I so should have been there!

9 Denise { 08.09.10 at 9:28 pm }

Beautiful, Mel. Really beautiful. Thank you.

10 Stephanie Himel-Nelson { 08.09.10 at 9:53 pm }

OK, first, I am so bummed that we never managed to run into each other!
Now, on to your excellent post. I was at the grief and loss session as well and I thought it was an amazingly supportive and non-morbid audience. I, too, found myself thinking about people I’d lost. The cult of grief issue bothers me as well. For instance, I love Anissa’s blog, but I’ve hesitated to ever post there because I really didn’t know much about her until her stroke. I feel like a voyeur not entitled to be part of her community, in a way.
I actually went to the session because I’ve struggled to write about all of the miscarriages I had when my husband and I were first trying to conceive. Now that we’re trying again, all of this stuff has been coming back into my head and it sometimes puts me in a very bad place. I thought the panel would offer some insight into how to blog about it without becoming morbid or putting off my readers. And I think I did get some good insight. And I had a good cry too.
Steph
(Community Manager/Consultant, Attain Fertility)

11 MLO { 08.10.10 at 4:00 am }

I had an initial thought of what I would say here. It escaped me. I find that you have caused me to go into deep thought about what it is we each want with our grief. Sometimes, even as someone is lashing out they really do want that caring hand. Sometimes they have been hurt so bad that the offered hand looks as if it might strike – like a snake that is about to bite.

Not everyone has the patience, or the virtue, to wade through those awful times of denial, anger, and bargaining. Or to confront what acceptance really means. Sometimes the only thing we can share, is the grieving sadness in between.

This is a good post.

12 mash { 08.10.10 at 9:32 am }

Thank you so much for this. I have found a world of infertility blogs but not many on grief, especially since my grief is not from losing a child.

I have found that people on the outside of the grief tend to run away, as if it is catchy. There is nothing that touches me more, than someone I hardly know saying that they are sorry to hear about my dad’s death (I’m talking about real life people).

Because it’s acknowledging the fact that he lived, and when people avoid the subject, you start to feel as if you are living in a bad nightmare in which you are only imagining this man, your own father. Raw with pain, and yet avoiding the subject to keep everyone else from having to face their own mortality. It’s so ridiculous at times that you feel like you are in some kind of comedy where we all pretend everything is just peachy!

Compassion at moments like these is like a lifeline!

13 flying monkeys { 08.10.10 at 1:06 pm }

I come across many posts I want to leave a comment on but the words don’t seem to do the grief…person?…situation?… justice. I’m not sure if it’s because I mostly read, hardly creating new posts of my own anymore, and it feels like an intrusion or if I don’t trust my own empathy and how it will be received.
Great post, BlogHer sounds like a great experience.

14 Cecily { 08.10.10 at 1:18 pm }

Seeing your face there in the front row made all the difference for me. Thank you.

15 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 08.10.10 at 1:33 pm }

I found myself nodding wildly as I read this:
“That there is a reason we all write and it is because we need to write in order to make sense of our world. Our words are out there just as much for ourselves as they are for others.”

I don’t generally have any actual physical reaction when reading blogs (the occasional real LOL, perhaps), but that sentiment really struck me. And I think that’s because, as I mentioned in a post regarding the dickfuck who outed me to my husband’s coworkers, it’s not just the feedback we get, which is great, but the unfettered ability to open up that part of ourselves. Because, like you quoted Kim saying, I talk with my hands these days, not with my mouth.

Great post. Really.

16 Foxy Popcorn { 08.11.10 at 1:12 pm }

I really love Kim’s statement that, “I don’t talk about it like this [and pointed to her mouth], I talk about it like this [and pretended to type].”

Writing and blogging has given me the chance to express things that I wasn’t ready or able to express verbally. As I write this it seems a little backwards, but it really does feel safer to test my words in writing, before I utter them out loud. My voice feels so much more significant than anything I could ever write.

Blogging has been a huge part of the IF grieving process for me. Connecting with others who understand my grief, because they share it, not only provides comfort, but has allowed me to ‘own’ my experience in a way that supports my healing.

Fascinating topic, and very interesting discussion!

17 jen { 08.12.10 at 7:58 am }

“there is a reason we all write and it is because we need to write in order to make sense of our world. Our words are out there just as much for ourselves as they are for others.”

absolutely.

18 Kristin { 08.12.10 at 9:50 am }

Brilliant wrap up of the most amazing session. I simply HAD to be there. I couldn’t imagine being anyplace else.

19 Loralee { 08.18.10 at 12:51 am }

This was so lovely and well put. It put many of my worries and thoughts into place. I cannot tell you how much having such a wonderful, insightful and supportive audience during that panel meant to all of us sitting up there.
xo.

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