This column is an edited excerpt from the July 29 “Dear Sugars” podcast, an advice program hosted by Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed. The audio contains an extended conversation and more letters. If you’re reading this on a desktop, click the play button below to listen. Mobile readers can find “Dear Sugars” on the Podcasts app (iPhone and iPad) or Radio Public (Android and tablet).
My fiancé’s 82-year-old grandfather died last year and his mother has not taken it well. She believes in healing through faith, and right up until the end she believed a miracle would save her father’s life. Since his death, she regularly makes long Facebook posts about her suffering, inciting people to comfort and support her. My dad died suddenly 10 years ago of a brain aneurysm on the last day of my freshman year of college. I was 19. I never got to say goodbye. My fiancé’s grandfather had a long life and the opportunity to make peace with everyone before he died. Because of this, my pity for my future mother-in-law is stunted. My heart goes numb when she says what her father should have been here to do. I know grief is not a competition, but I feel that my loss was worse than hers. She’s aware that my father died young and unexpectedly, but I haven’t shared my feelings of resentment with her. How do I stop being so cold and hard? How do I honor her right to grieve publicly when I don’t understand it? How do I respect my own emotions while responding to her with empathy?
Steve Almond Reading the letters we receive, I’m always struck by how much, and how quickly, people convert their pain into self-loathing. My first thought when I read your letter, Heartless, was: Oh my god — you’re in pain. Your grieving isn’t over. The public ways in which your fiancé’s mom is grieving have reawakened the more private sense of shock and paralysis you felt when your father died. Your instinctive contempt for her displays of sorrow, and how she’s been able to elicit comfort, raises questions about whether you received what you needed 10 years ago, when you were so young and less equipped to ask for support, or even understand how to grieve.
Cheryl Strayed Deep grief often gets reignited when big things happen in our lives, Heartless. And I agree with Steve that witnessing your fiancé’s mom’s grief is likely…