25 June 2014

Grief: Firefighters and Builders

It's been another busy week, and I continue to struggle with getting back into the rhythm of blogging regularly. It's something I obviously enjoy, but I many of the topics I want to write about are difficult. I don't always have the emotional "umph" to tackle them.

One subject that has been on my mind recently is the notion of "firefighters" and "builders", a concept I first read about in a very insightful article a friend shared with me awhile back. Most people you'll meet along your grief journey fall into one category or the other. Very few people can wear both hats.

A firefighter is a person who comes to you in the moment of crisis. This is the person who isn't afraid to hear your anguish. He or she helps you make decisions and think through what is happening to you with infinite patience and care. When the crisis has ended, the firefighter often moves on. And that's okay. Thankfully, you don't have fires to put out every single day.

A builder, on the other hand, arrives on the scene after the initial crisis and stays with you through the long, ugly process of piecing your life back together. A builder is just as brave as a firefighter and is not afraid to sit with you in your darkest moments. A builder helps you find your way around when you finally emerge from the tunnel of grief.

  I think there's a third category, too: The onlookers. These folks are curious, sometimes morbidly so, and hover around during your most difficult hours. Their presence can be a hindrance, as it takes your energy to respond to their endless barrage of questions and commentary. Thankfully, the onlookers only stick around for a little while, then they'll be out of your life for good as they seek out the next crisis.

In thinking back over the experiences of the past year, most of the people in my life fell into one of these categories. I'm fortunate to have had a handful of people who -- amazingly -- exchanged their firefighting suit for a tool belt. I count my blessings to have had them in my life at the time I needed it most.

Sometimes the person who shows up in the firefighting suit is not someone you expect. In fact, sometimes the people who are closest to you before the crisis are in the worst position to help you during it. It makes sense if you think about it. An acquaintance has just enough emotional "distance" to help you when your grief is raw. Someone closer to you may not be able to separate herself enough from your angst (and hers) to fully support you.

My grief counselor also pointed out to me that sometimes people just can't be there for you during the grieving process in the way that you expected them to be. Perhaps they are dealing with their own grief. Perhaps they're afraid to see yours. Whatever the reason, it's important to accept this and move on. The last thing you need when you're trying to heal yourself is to harbor anger and disappointment toward someone else.

You may ask why I'm spending time thinking about this sort of thing, a year after I lost my dad. I guess it's all part of trying to make sense of everything that has happened to me. It's part of packing up the boxes, so to speak, and putting them away. I'm thankful for everyone who helped me through the past year -- the firefighters who extinguished the flames and the builders who arrived to see what was left. 

So now begins the slow work of putting together the broken pieces of my life. Our stay on this earth is unbearably short. I see that all too clearly now. What can I make of the time I have left?


Lisa Damman said...

Beautiful post! I've been with you on your journey reading your blog and have learned so much from you. Thank you!

Janet said...

Thank you so much, Lisa! I have struggled to find information about some of these topics, which is one reason I want to capture my thoughts to share with others who might be going through similar circumstances. I'm glad to know you've found my posts helpful. Hope you are having a good summer!