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Man Saddened that Friends Can't Share His Grief

The British novelist Julian Barnes tried to capture the loneliness of what he calls "grief-work." After thirty years of marriage, his wife Pat died from a brain tumor. Barnes was struck by how many of his closest friends didn't know how to talk honestly about his grief. Barnes said, "Some friends are as scared of grief as they are of death; they avoid you as if they fear infection." One friend advised him to get a dog. Some other friends suggested that he go on a long vacation. Barely a week after his wife's funeral, another friend cheerily asked, "So, what are you up to? Are you going on walking holidays?"

Barnes also describes the friends who can't even bring themselves to mention his wife's name. He calls them "the Silent Ones." Barnes writes:

I remember a dinner conversation in a restaurant with three married friends …. Each had known her for many years …. I mentioned her name; no one picked it up. I did it again, and again nothing. Perhaps the third time I was deliberately trying to provoke …. Afraid to touch her name, they denied her thrice, and I thought the worse of them for it.

Barnes imagines that these Silent Ones really want to say, "Your grief is an embarrassment. We're just waiting for it to pass. And, by the way, you're less interesting without her."

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