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Grief can be overcome

If I could anthropomorphize grief in some way, I would compare it to a horrid little imp who attaches itself to a person’s shoulders, weighing him or her down like an overgrown toddler.

Only you can’t just simply set this thing, Grief, down like you could a child. It follows you everywhere. It attaches itself like a parasite, breathing its sour breath in your ear, always whispering things to make you sad or depressed. Grief will give you anxiety.

And it will make you angry with yourself and angry towards others.

Until you learn to control it.

Earlier this week, I came face-to-face with Grief, only it was not my own. I’m not going to use any names as to identify the subject of this story. My purpose in telling it is not to shame this person and I hope if she reads this, she will not be upset.

I was working in my office earlier this week, trying to put together a story for our website about a man who had gone missing. I was just about finished when one of our circulation clerks came to my door, telling me there was a woman up front who was very angry and wanted to speak with me.

I told the clerk I would be up front in just a moment, right after I posted my missing person story online.

That didn’t satisfy the woman, who stormed back to my office, with another woman in tow. Before I knew exactly what was happening, the woman threw that day’s paper on my desk and began yelling at me.

The paper was open to the obituaries. It was the woman’s contention that I had published her husband’s obituary incorrectly and that I was disrespectful in doing so.

My stomach dropped. Errors in obituaries are the worst possible mistakes any newspaper can make. Families are already going through enough without having to worry about the obituary being wrong.

My first course of action when faced with this accusation is always to compare the newspaper version to the version the funeral home sent over, and that’s what I did in this situation.

I was starting to shake, because regardless of who made the mistake, I was not enjoying being yelled at as if I had purposefully ruined this obit.

As I pulled the original copy from my email, I asked her to explain the errors from the newspaper so I could see where our mistake could have been.

She explained that her husband’s service medals were not listed, and that even her name was left out all together.

There was a list of medals in the obituary we printed, so I asked which ones were left out. I printed her a copy of what the funeral home sent so she could compare the two.

Her reply? She didn’t know. Because she said she hadn’t read the newspaper that day.

She hadn’t read the obituary we published. Come to find out, the other women she brought must have misread it and told her things were left out. And she believed it without question. And Grief gave her enough conviction to berate a complete stranger.

It was at this point I was shaking not from anxiety of ruining a widow’s keepsake, but from pure anger. I’m sure it showed.

The widow took a moment and read the obituaries side-by-side. The tears her anger had been holding back slowly started to fall.

Her voice, no longer booming, was now quiet.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, and repeated it several times.

My adrenaline was pumping pretty hard by that point and I was still shaking. But I knew I had to make a split second decision. Either I shame her or I forgive her. Those were the only choices.

“It’s OK,” I said.

“No, it’s not,” she said.

“Well, it’s not. But I forgive you then,” I told her.

No matter how many times I could have said “It’s OK,” she was going to feel ashamed of how she acted. She had let Grief get the better of her.

Speaking as someone who has had that impish creature cling to me, I fully understood.

She left my office in tears.

Once my blood pressure was back to normal, I went on about my day. It was a crazy incident, but not even that could prepare me for what happened next.

A couple of hours later, the widow darkened my office again, this time peeking around the door frame slowly, a hanging basket of flowers in her hand.

She came in and sat them on my desk and handed me a card. She was still apologizing.

“This was not necessary,” I told her, but she insisted, her eyes still red from crying.

I came around my desk and thanked her and gave her a hug. She left once more and I sat down, staring at the yellow strawflowers. I almost didn’t know what to say.

I can’t remember the last time I had witnessed such a heartfelt apology and acknowledgement of wrongdoing. People just aren’t usually sincere anymore.

As I thought about that over the next few days, I began to be less worried for the woman and her struggle with Grief. It takes a lot of courage to admit when you’re wrong. And it takes even more strength to do so when Grief is hanging on, telling you not to.

I hope if the widow in my story reads this column, she will know that I think she is going be all right and that I have all the understanding in the world for her situation.

Grief may never fully go away, but you learn how to manage it. Sometimes it won’t even seem like it’s there. And when it creeps up on you from time to time, you’ll know how to handle it.

 

Michelle Goodman is the managing editor at The Tribune. To reach her, call 740-532-1441 ext. 12 or by email at michelle.goodman@irontontribune.com.