Selfish Solidarity

-a dispatch from the grief process

I am lucky that I get to engage this process on my own. There’s no one here I have to tend to, check on, support or otherwise look after beyond myself. That’s kind of a relief.

What affective labor that I am doing is being mutually returned by others and that’s over the phone since they are all thousands of kilometers away right now. Affective labor is the emotional work in a situation. Usually it describes a workplace but most affective labor is unpaid and is usually, though not exclusively, left up to women. There’s been a couple of times when someone I know has started to run off at the mouth and I’ve found myself checking my reaction so as not to offend them. This made me really angry. When they phoned after that I didn’t even listen to them as they prattled on. I didn’t hang up on them but I have no idea what they said because of what went on in their previous call. I think I said towards the end that I would phone them back some time in the future. I haven’t and probably won’t.

Now it’s not that I have to be alone. I could call a few people to come over if I wanted them to or could go and stay at numerous family member’s homes as well. I could get on a plane and go to India. I already have a visa since I was planning to go in March and stay for the duration of the visa—mainly so I could be there for Manoj’s birthday which is May 5. But thinking of going there, without him coming all the way to Delhi and awaiting me at the airport when I land, no matter what time of the day or night, as he always did, would be far too hard to handle right now. [OK that’s really painful to remember so I won’t go there for a while.]

So I stay here.

Some people would find this solitude onerous but it’s kind of my nature to spend a fair bit of time on my own or with only a few people at a time. Not that I don’t like people, I just don’t like them around me every single moment of the day. It becomes rather taxing after a while. Many introverts share this preference.

One thing I’ve noticed in some other people’s grief process with which I am familiar is the occasional expectation that a grieving person is supposed to tailor their grieving process around the comfort of the comforters. That is they are sometimes expected to perform their grief in a way that does not upset others. This is what I did in that phone call with the prattler I mentioned above. I didn’t want to upset them. I didn’t have the energy to call out their callousness even though in my mind I was yelling, “DO YOU HEAR YOURSELF? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

There was an article, which I am going to write about in an upcoming post in more depth, in the Los Angeles Times. It was called How not to say the wrong thing. It was posted on Facebook by Brad Warner a week or so ago. In that article there is a description of a woman who was undergoing breast cancer treatment and about “supporters” who really stepped in it.

When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan’s colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn’t feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague’s response? "This isn’t just about you."

The article goes on to give some guidance as to what is and isn’t appropriate to say to whom and when. It’s important to give this some thought when dealing with people in a vulnerable state, if their grieving, or undergoing a rough time in life, or dying. Even with the best of intentions, without giving some considered thought to one’s words people can get unnecessarily hurt. Damage can be done. If one wants to give support then one needs to do so responsibly.

Comforting others is an act of solidarity with their suffering.

Selfish solidarity is no comfort at all.