Silence and Grief and Permission

Sometimes, silence is okay. I thought about that this weekend, when I considered not posting anything on the blog this week due to the Sandy Hook shootings on Friday. I thought maybe this would be a good week to go dark, let the silence speak for itself, and take time to grieve, absorb, contemplate, and love. Let’s be honest; a lot of things fucking hurt right now, and I don’t know what to say about that.

But silence didn’t quite feel right to me this time, which surprised me, because when public tragedy happens, I have always tended to go quiet, at least online. I generally step off Twitter and Facebook for several days. For one thing, I never know the right thing to say. I’m a personal griever rather than a public one, meaning that even when the worst things happen directly to me I tend to hold it all within myself rather than expressing or sharing it – much more so for things that are happening to someone else, outside the circle of my daily life. Part of me thinks, Who am I to comment on their loss?

Plus, sometimes tweets, Facebook statuses, etc., make me angry. People who continue to be flippant and self-promote do sometimes get under my skin, but even more so, I get tired of others berating these people for “being disrespectful.”

Some people think that when something bad happens, the entire world should stop and mourn. I understand this impulse (it makes me think of “Funeral Blues” by W.H. Auden), but that doesn’t mean I think we should all demand everyone feel this way. All emotions are variable, and so are the ways of handling them. Grief is no different. Just because someone doesn’t want to grieve publicly online doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting. And just because someone does want to doesn’t mean it’s fake.

Why does it feel like a contest? Why does it have to descend into accusations and declarations and anger? Each other is not who we’re angry at, deep down. I think we are all mature enough to admit that.

One of the best gifts you can give yourself during a time like this is permission. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel. Give yourself permission to face it, avoid it, focus on it, or whatever you need. You’re allowed to feel anything that you feel – yes, even the good.

I can tell you, personally, from the bottom of my heart, that grief does not exclude joy. No matter how heartbreaking something is, there can be joy in the midst of it. Now maybe that doesn’t seem right to some people, and I’m sorry if you feel that way, but it’s true to me. The day my dad died, I still laughed. I still sat around and heard stories of him and felt overwhelmed with the gift of his life. And good heavens, that doesn’t mean I didn’t care, that I wasn’t heartsick, that I didn’t cry myself to sleep.

Sometimes we feel something akin to survivors’ guilt. Maybe you’re so grateful that your own children are okay that grief takes second place. Maybe you live far away from this and don’t feel much at all. Maybe something splendid just happened in your life that deserves celebration. Acknowledging the positive doesn’t have to mean denying or undercutting the negative. It hurt like hell that my dad couldn’t be at my wedding the year after he died, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy every drop of happiness that came to me that day.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am in no way saying that anyone should find joy in this or any tragedy. If something is so horrible you can’t find anything but sorrow in any facet of your life, you’re allowed that. Truly, every person is allowed to acknowledge the depth of a loss without having to feel like they “should” or “should not” do or feel anything.

When bad things like this happen on a public scale, there isn’t a “right” way to react. Reaction is an individual choice. Yes, it would be nice if everyone thought of taking down those auto-scheduled self-promotion tweets – a strangely vocal subject this Friday – but it isn’t your job to command people to do it. Chances are pretty good they either A) haven’t heard the news yet or B) don’t even realize their tweets are going out. If this bothers you so much, a quiet unfollow is just fine, and always your right. You don’t need to publicly reprimand them.

Some people are fixers; they will immediately want to start campaigning for some sort of change. Some people think that’s disrespectful; they want stillness first. Some people will want to talk it out, maybe get angry. Others will go silent to grieve in private. Still others will pretend nothing’s happening at all, and find slow solace through gradual acceptance. And some people won’t truly be much affected by it. And no matter which of these feels right for you, it doesn’t make the others wrong.

There is no wrong here except for what happened, and that’s exactly what we’re all trying to deal with.


I might or might not put up posts for the next week or two, since they will be in the midst of the holidays. So if I don’t get another chance, I wish you all joy and love this season. And if you can’t find that, I wish you peace.

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  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Joy and love to you, too, Annie. Well-written post with a crucial message. See you during the new year!

  • I’m so glad you wrote this, Annie — and I wish you a happy holiday and New Year as well, filled with peace, joy, and love.  

  • Missy Frye

    Wonderful post, Annie. I wish you peace, joy and love too. 

  • Richardsfive

    Thanks for the beautiful thoughts on the different ways people grieve, Annie.

    As soon as I heard of the tragedy in Connecticut, I prayed for the families, friends, townsfolk, survivors, responders, etc. Then I turned off the TV, radio, internet news sources, etc. for 48 hours. I just couldn’t bear to listen to the reporters and politicians. So for me, in this one case, withdrawing into silence and prayer was how I grieved.

    • Yes, I can understand that. I hope it brought you some solace, Regina.

  • Marshall_patrick

    Thanks Annie, well said.  And for this season…

    First I wish you love,
    It makes peace so much easier to find.

  • “There is no wrong here except for what happened, and that’s exactly what we’re all trying to deal with.” Beautifully stated. Thanks so much for sharing, Annie. I wish you joy and love this season, too!

  • jclementwall

    I love this post. It may, in fact, be my favorite Annie post ever. You are so wise.

    I tend to crave connection in times of national tragedy. In a case like this, I also want change (my politics and my emotions are very intertwined), and am reassured by the energy of people galvanizing behind (what I see as societal) evolution. What’s interesting to me is that I, uncharacteristically, didn’t post. I couldn’t focus. My birthday landed on the day after Sandy Hook, and I’d intended to write about the aging process, but I felt confused. It took me a few days to feel okay about a post that didn’t talk about the tragedy.

    I so agree with you that everyone has to respond to tragedy in the way that feels right to them, the way that heals them. Though I am sometimes baffled by the reactions of other people, I’m grateful for your reminder to give them space and leeway.

    • Aw, thanks J. That means a lot to me.

      I understand; I had a different post planned too. (Happy belated birthday, by the way.) It took me several days to decide whether or not to post this one, after writing it. I totally understood others’ choices not to blog about it.

  • This is such a well thought out discussion and I agree with every word. I especially like your main thesis: “When bad things like this happen on a public scale, there isn’t a “right” way to react. Reaction is an individual choice.” That is so true and people CAN get very self-righteous about how others should react. 

    • Thank you, Nina. Honestly, I didn’t even realize I had a ‘main thesis’; I guess I should send a thank you letter to my high school English teacher. =) I’m glad you liked the piece.

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  • Thank you, Annie. Well written and so wise.