Friday, November 10, 2006

Grief Junkies

I wrote a post a little while ago about witnessing a minor car accident on my way to work and referred to "grief junkies" and how angry they make me. I also promised to explain the concept of grief junkies more fully and now seems as good a time as any.

In the context of this accident, the grief junkie was a person from another car who felt compelled to get out and comfort the driver of one of the cars involved in the accident. Now, the main reason this person pissed me off is they left their car in the middle of traffic in peak hour to comfort someone they didn't fucking know who hadn't even been injured. What it comes down to is they wanted to be part of the trauma. They're a grief junkie.

The perversity of grief junkies bubbles up in all sorts of circumstances. Probably the creepiest and least meaningful is public outpourings of grief at the death of a public figure. The most prominent and also the worst example of this was the death of Princess Di. It isn't that I wanted her dead, more that in the grand scheme of things she was fucking meaningless. A spoilt, privileged individual, some things didn't go her way, she did use some of her public profile for noble causes, she died an untimely death, boo hoo. End of fucking story.

It did not warrant the disgusting outpourings and international chest beatings that ensued. I think that description is totally justified. Disgusting. Thousands of people die every day before their time. Most of them in conditions of horrific deprivation and pain. That someone who lived a life of luxury unimaginable to most died in a car crash is a little unfortunate but it's no fucking tragedy. Until the real tragedies of the world are addressed I'm unwilling to waste my emotions in situations like this.

I think Di may have been the first large scale grief junkie frenzy of recent times but there have been plenty more. Certain circles in the US indulged quite a bit when JFK junior crashed his plane. In Australia (and to a lesser extent worldwide) their was quite a bit of grief junkie posturing over the recent death of Steve Irwin. It's fine to remember people, recognise their contributions and even honour them where appropriate. But when you don't actually know them, acting like your life has been touched and expressing your deep personal anguish is just perverse.

It happens on a smaller scale in the media with personal tragedies too. When someone is killed in an accident or is murdered, the media loves playing up the tragedy angle - particularly if the victim is a small child or the parent of a small child. I can't imagine anything worse than the death of my own child but when it's someone else's child it's their personal grief, not an opportunity for the public grief junkies to get their jollies. I hate the obsession with putting us on a first-name basis with the victims - it's always the tragedy of baby X or poor little Y. I don't know these people and I don't want to intrude on their lives.

And in case anyone thinks the media is acting in the public interest in these cases, here a little tip about the media: They. Don't. Fucking. Care. Their single concern is selling advertising. They are pimping out individual grief in the name of ratings and dollars. Indulging in grief junkie mentality is simply playing into their hands and being complicit in their sick, manipulative games.

I get really pissed off when it happens to someone close to me. A few years ago there was an incident that brought home to me how useless this outpouring of grief junkie emotion is to someone suffering genuine grief. I'd been in a new job for about six months and was getting on particularly well with one guy in my team. We were getting to the point of being quite good friends when his wife of less than a year was killed in an accident.

He was very popular in the workplace so when he came back after taking some time off people were all over him. It was really creepy to see an almost constant procession of people coming up to him and going on at great length about how sorry they were and how they were "there for him" if he needed them. We sat in the same cubicle pod and I hadn't seen 90% of these people say two words to him in the previous six months so I don't know why they thought they meant so much to him.

The thing was, I felt like they were putting me in impossible position. They descended the instant he arrived so I hadn't had a chance to talk to him before a swarm of grief junkies had vomited their deeply felt condolences all over him. So then I don't know what to say - I feel like I can't say anything without coming across as empty as the ghoulish grief junkies that seem intent on sucking the tragedy right out of him. But I can't say nothing. So I'm sitting there with my brain imploding trying to think of what to do and eventually I tell him exactly what I'm thinking.

Essentially, I said that I knew nothing I could say or do would possibly make him feel any better but I feel like I can't sit there and say nothing. At the same time I can see people virtually smothering him with their concern and I don't want to make that situation any worse. So I'm here for whatever you need but I'm not in your face if you don't need to talk to anyone. He said he appreciated it and he particularly appreciated the fact I was giving him space instead of trying to force some sort of response out of him.

Hmmm, this got a lot more personal than I intended when I started. I really fucking hate grief junkies.

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