Victoria Noe

Award-winning Author, Speaker, Activist

Why Are We So Hard on Grievers?

955a324055d9abbe6e90ca8ed52657d2Most of us don’t grieve in public and frankly, that’s a relief. Anyone in the public eye who has experienced a loss is closely watched for…what? So we – strangers – can judge how they’re handling their grief. Do they cry at the drop of a hat or do they act as if nothing has happened?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I watched both the speech given by Khizr Khan at the Democratic National Convention last week and the reaction from around the country. Perhaps the only thing more impressive was his wife, Ghazala.

I listened to his words, but I watched her. The grief she experienced was obvious in her body language: tense, fragile, struggling for control. She’s not a public figure, so standing on a stage before an audience of thousands – and TV audience of millions – would have been difficult in the best of situations. And this was not the best of situations.

Anyone who has ever grieved recognized the fear in her eyes: fear she would embarrass herself and her husband by losing control at the sight of their son’s picture.

“Why didn’t she speak for herself?” was the first criticism. Frankly, I had no patience for that because she didn’t need to speak.

She said as much – if not more – than her husband just by her presence. Most of the time when someone insists “I feel your pain”, it’s patronizing. But I’ll bet that almost every person who has seen her standing there next to her husband, dignified and supportive, understands exactly what was behind those eyes. More than one person I know admitted to crying during her husband’s speech, but every one mentioned her as the reason.

I’ve lost a lot of people I loved. In every case it was difficult to speak about them, even to friends and family. There were times when I was afraid that the grief would appear suddenly, and I wouldn’t be able to hold back the tears. I might embarrass myself by crying in public. In fact, I remember excusing myself during Mass, to run to the back of church before I started to cry. Maybe you’ve felt that same fear of losing control.

But as painful as it is to watch someone grieve, it is infinitely more painful to be that griever, especially if they know they’re being watched and judged.

So let’s cut each other some slack. Everyone grieves differently. Everyone grieves at their own pace.

Let them.