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Grief as an Invisible Cloak

Bob Baugher, Ph.D.

If you’ve ever seen Harry Potter, you’ve seen times where Harry and his friends wore the invisible cloak. Since your loved one died, you’ve had to put on your own cloak as you ventured out into a world that didn’t understand what you were going through. Here you are in the grocery store pushing a cart down the produce aisle past the grapes and apples, and as you pass the bananas, you are hit with the memory of your loved laughing as he takes a bite of his banana. Quickly, you don your cloak. However, what you’d really like to do is stop the nearest customer and say something like, “You know, just now looking at those bananas gave me a memory of when my son would grab a banana from the kitchen counter, peel it in a flash, and shove it in his mouth. Isn’t that a sweet memory? Don’t you agree?”

A minute later you are walking down the cereal aisle and see your daughter’s favorite cereal. You want to say to the man who is grabbing that same cereal something like, “My daughter used to eat that cereal seven days a week. We always kept three or four extra boxes.” As that thought emerges, you realize that the man would likely ask why you’re not taking the cereal. You head toward the bread aisle, cloak firmly wrapped around your grieving body.

Suddenly, there is your neighbor standing there, saying, “Well, hello there, how’s it going?” From inside your cloak, you lie saying, “Oh, OK. How about you?” You stand there chatting for the next five minutes. You know the game: Your neighbor doesn’t really want to know how you’re doing. There will be no mention of your daughter. Instead, you might get a brief summary of her child’s latest accomplishments. You smile and nod.

As you head to your car, you hear a voice calling your name. You turn and see an old friend walking briskly towards you, saying, “I cannot believe it’s you!” You’ve not seen this friend since your child’s death and you stiffen knowing that it’s going to come up. As the conversation begins and pleasantries are exchanged, the inevitable question emerges, “So, what’s new?” No chance now to don the cloak now—here comes the raw truth. “Well, we’ve been going through some very difficult times….” and for the next several painful minutes you are immersed in telling the horrible story yet again. As the conversation ends, you put on your cloak which enables you to put on a brave front—no tears or sad face—your friend is already too devastated for that. Finally, your friend walks away, you climb into your car, wriggle out of your cloak and let the real emotions pour out.

So, this is how it goes in the life of a person coping with grief. You wear that cloak because people don’t want to see the real you—they couldn’t handle it. You start your car, drive out of the parking lot, and head home thinking, “This grief stuff is hard trying to live through yet another day without my loved one. Maybe someday I can get rid of my invisible cloak. In the meantime, I’ll keep it handy.”

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