“I almost prefer the moments of agony. These are at least clean and honest. But the bath of self-pity, the wallow, the loathsome sticky-sweet pleasure of indulging it—that disgusts me.”

–C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

To grieve is to be excessively picky. Say this, not that. A pinch of comfort, but hold the clichés. A dash of Scripture, but go easy on the cause-effect theology. Treat me like I’m both normal and special, devastated and resilient—all at the same time, but only until I change my mind. And don’t even think about keeping silent on the topic because that’s not allowed either. Cue folded arms with a grouchy “Humph!”

The paradox of grief is sandwiched between unwanted visibility and insufficient recognition. Frankly, there are days when almost everything feels unwanted or insufficient. Case in point: the words people say. Two real-life examples come to mind.

“At least you still have your other son.” (Gee, I never thought of it that way.)

“This might sound terrible, but he’s not yours anymore.” (You’re right, that does sound terrible.)

Yes, those were actual face-to-face quotes (though the clever retorts remained unspoken). Welcome to grief, a place where kind intentions are often lost in translation. If only intentions were all that mattered. In a world without gaffes or guessing games, words would only hurt if you wanted them to. Giving and receiving comfort would be a cakewalk. No more headaches over choosing the right words at the right time spoken in the right tone with the right nonverbals.

But alas, such a world would not leave much room for the solace of an uncommonly simple validation or acknowledgment:

“I’m so sorry.”

“I can’t begin to know how you feel.”

Vincent died three months ago today. We visited his grave twice last week. The soil is still soft, no marker yet. He was such a great kid. I wish we had more pictures. Theo misses his brother. Rebecca is suffering. I’ll never get over this one. The tears continue, always will. I cannot drink this cup—like I have a choice. The permanence is overwhelming. We weren’t ready to say goodbye.

It’s not easy being picky.

[Photo by Luminosity]