I’ll never forget the moment I snapped at one of my clients after Andy’s death. They were talking about a struggle at work, as all my clients do because that’s what I want to know. They were going on and on and onandonandonandon about it. I finally broke in and said

“It could be worse. Your husband could die of secret cancer.”

I hadn’t planned on using Andy’s death as a source of perspective. People had already been downplaying my capability, not allowing me to stand in my truth by saying things like ,“I don’t want to complain to you. My problems are so trivial compared to yours.” Um, yes, they are, but also you don’t get to decide for me what I can and can’t handle. And if you’re self-conscious about your complaining, go work that out with you and your therapist. I was trying to get people to include me. Weaponizing his death was not in the plan.

I had deliberately kept myself away from others and eased back into work so I wouldn’t compare the death of my husband to someone’s workplace issue.

Because they aren’t comparable and it’s not fair to either of us to compare it.

But I couldn’t take it. Some people I just want to shake and shock them into some perspective.

So I said it. And they stopped and redirected to actual problem solving. To not just stewing in their juices, but to actually getting out of the juice, or seasoning the juice. They shifted.

“Those who cling to the world, endeavor to free them…”

That’s what I had always sought to do; made it my life’s work to free people from burden–real or self-imposed.  But with Andy’s death, it became more vital to give people perspective. I would look at my clients and think, I know it feels hard. I got into this work because I wanted things to feel less hard for others. But in comparison to this, it’s just not that bad. Have gratitude that your worst problem is an overlong email chain and not an overlong life ahead of you without your soul mate.

I only had to say it once. I only had to shock someone once and I never used Andy’s death that way again. I never told someone to feel less because I was feeling more. People have told themselves to feel less while I feel more, and for their self-awareness I am grateful.

I’m told that my grief doesn’t have to be a lesson, that I don’t have to learn something or teach something out of it.

But I am a learner and I am a teacher, so I will do both.

Don’t tell me it’s the rainforest when I know it’s the desert. Don’t tell me not to share my desert. Don’t presume to know my desert. My desert has a lush oasis that I go to when the solitude and sun are too much. And sometimes I leave the oasis when the beauty and comfort is incongruent with my pain. So I climb a dune and look around and help a pilgrim on their journey through the desert. I am allowed to help and I am allowed to walk away. And I’m allowed tacky umbrella drinks if that’s what fits in my oasis.

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