Stupid Quotes About Grief and Some That Are Not So Stupid

-a dispatch from the grief process

A while back James Ford made a little comment on Facebook “I find myself annoyed at the euphemisms we like to use for "die." The top of my list currently is transitioned…”

and people started listing some of these:

  • passed
  • fatal event
  • shuffle off this mortal coil
  • bought the farm
  • Promoted to Glory
  • wrested from mortality
  • transitioned
  • expired
  • left
  • lost

Yeah these pretty much suck. I’m not all that annoyed with them though, except the really sucky ones. What annoys me more is certain kinds of quotations.

In looking at some quotation sites and some sites about grief I kept coming across a lot of really stupid aphorisms. Here’s some of them and why I find them annoying and unhelpful and sometimes even damaging.

“We only part to meet again.”

Anything to do with God or an afterlife is particularly annoying. I find a lot of these to be really life denying. What do I mean “life denying”? They skirt the issue of death. Death is not something other than life, something “out there” like an alien spaceship in stealth mode orbiting the planet. It’s right here in our faces all the time. Sometimes it’s really really close. Sometimes it’s even our death.  It is intrinsic to life, not something separate from it.

Also the incredibly sappy nature of some of them make my teeth hurt.

“What you think of how your day will be when your first wake up is how your day will be. Choose to have a good day.”

“Focusing on the positive brings positive into your life.

“How you will feel each day is also up to you. “

This group is related to the first group. These are all like The Secret sort of nonsense. A lot of this stuff is denial and repression. We don’t have a choice about how we feel about some things. To pretend that the death of a loved one is “no big deal” and we should smile and “be nice” the day after it happens is purely delusional. All it does is add a huge pile of guilt onto somebody for not “performing” happy-grief the way some uber-positive self-help nonsense tells us to.

"There is something you must always remember.  You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." 

This irritates me because it presumes people are idiots who have no self-knowledge whatsoever without being reminded by some ridiculous platitude.

“Don’t cry because they are gone, smile because they were here”

Cry your head off because they are gone. What kind of robot would you have to be to not miss someone who was at the center of your relational life. This goes for any situation, whether it’s a partner, parent or child who has died. They were important to you.

“Time heals all”

How is this helpful? If I’m grieving in the here and now, this kind of platitude serves no purpose but to attempt to shift focus from the present into some vague future where this might or might not occur.

“Become bigger than the pain.”

This reminds me of the “lean in” philosophy. If you just try harder you’ll “overcome” it. Why strive to overcome what you are experiencing in life. Experience it as it is. It also reminds me of the “man up” nonsense that men get faced with when they grieve. That’s crap.

Some not so stupid quotes that I might take up in future posts (or not) (I don’t know):

“Ah, grief makes us precise!”
Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers

“My head is full of fire
and grief and my tongue
runs wild, pierced
with shards of glass.”
Federico García Lorca, Three Tragedies: Blood Wedding, Yerma, Bernarda Alba

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed [this is what I’m doing here…observing grief, in my own way]

“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.”
John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses. ”

"I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself"
— D.H. Lawrence

“There should be a statute of limitation on grief. A rulebook that says it is all right to wake up crying, but only for a month. That after 42 days you will no longer turn with your heart racing, certain you have heard her call out your name. That there will be no fine imposed if you feel the need to clean out her desk; take down her artwork from the refrigerator; turn over a school portrait as you pass – if only because it cuts you fresh again to see it. That it’s okay to measure the time she has been gone, the way we once measured her birthdays.”
Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

“For that which you love most in him
may be clearer in his absence,
as the mountain to the climber
is clearer from the plain.”
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

“Each of us has his own rhythm of suffering.”
Roland Barthes

“Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand.”
– Patti Smith

“we are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. as we were. as we are no longer. as we will one day not be at all.”
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”
William Shakespeare, Macbeth

I’ll open comments here but if I don’t like them I’ll just delete them and close the comments. Or maybe I’ll take you out to the woodshed. IDK.

Stuff I don’t want to hear:

  • Anything beginning with “You should…”
  • Any sappy shit.
  • Anything that presumes to have an understanding of what I’m experiencing. “I know how you feel.” No. You don’t.
  • Buddhist quotes of any kind
  • tone trolling of any kind “You could have written this in a less abrasive manner.”

You get the idea. So confine comments to what’s in the post if you feel you must comment.

2 comments on “Stupid Quotes About Grief and Some That Are Not So Stupid

  1. It’s not just bravery to rant against the inanities people put forth in their “attempts” (there is no try; do or do not) to “comfort” someone in grief. It’s absolutely necessary. To do it so eloquently…..and offer alternatives that help one access their grief, name it, wrestle with it, explore it, get curious about it……no words but thank you!

  2. This post and the other I’ve just read, “on silence, states of exception and grace”: your processing of grief and all that comes with it, thank you for all of it. Thank you for taking the time to share your feelings. Your thoughts on somatics/embodiment are intriguing and these ideas pique my own curiosity and process of my own process of same.

    This quote of yours really intrigues me, wanting to sit with for a while:
    “This “lean-in” approach is extremist. It doesn’t deal with what is but creates a more intense and artificial situation. It manufactures a false circumstance that can easily bring about a false sense of victory.”

    I’ve been a big proponent of leaning in, especially being influenced by Pema Chodron and Elizabeth Matthis-Namgyel. It makes me curious then, leaning in actually is creating another something on top of what is already present, instead of simply being present with the present. Beautiful.
    (did I get that right?)

    Thank you again
    deep bow

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