by Loree Cook-Daniels
Nineteen years later, I still wince at the memories of people who failed to show up for me after my life-partner’s death: the person who said, “just tell me how I can help and I will,” then told me how * I * could get blown-up copies of pictures for the funeral when I asked her to do the task. The long-time friend who offered to come out and help me hold a garage sale of my partner’s stuff, then refused – and has continued to refuse – to answer my calls ever since. The audio aficionado father whom I asked to convert a grief therapy CD into a tape so I could actually use it and who months later sent it back to me, tape unmade.
There are also the other memories. Of an acquaintance stepping forward, sitting with me in the front row of the funeral, and putting a comforting arm around me. The person who hated funerals so much she didn’t even attend her husband’s, but showed up at my partner’s. The friend who got on an airplane within hours of my call to come take charge of my household for a week.
It is the last two kinds of responses that many of us think we would have to offer if we are going to do anything to support someone experiencing a crisis, illness, or horrible loss: something that is incredibly hard and/or involving. But it’s actually the other four examples we should be thinking of: what can I give? And then, simply, giving it.
My current partner’s father died last month. Both he and I felt like it was a “good death.” “What did you do that made it a good death?” my therapist asked me. I realized my role had been involving – this was my partner and father-in-law – but it was also incredibly simple: after the accident that sent his dad to the ER, I simply became my partner’s sounding board. I sat with him and his dad in the ER, then cleared my schedule when his father was admitted to hospice. I didn’t always sit with my partner as he kept vigil at his father’s bedside, but I did drive over to have breakfast and dinner with him each day, and we kept an open and active direct messaging link during the days. I washed the clothes my father-in-law had been wearing. I showed up when I was asked to, my partner’s favorite soda can in hand. I held him the one time he cried, and I sat at his side while he called people to say his father had passed. What did I say? Almost nothing. I was there as a witness, a connection, a living reminder that we all experience terrible things, and we don’t need to do it in isolation and/or shame.
Trauma feels like a given in the trans/non-binary community. We’ve all gone through it, and we regularly see it happen to those around us. But all that experience does not, unfortunately, mean that we are good at supporting each other when bad things happen. That’s the goal of There Is No Good Card for This, by Kelsey Crowe, Ph.D. and Emily McDowell (Harper, 2017): teaching us, as the subtitle says, What to Say and Do When Life is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love.
This heavily-illustrated guide is practical, with many specific examples of what people have found helpful. It’s also cautionary, with lots of stories of what is not helpful, explaining why we do those things and why we shouldn’t. “Notice, fumble, and try,” is one of the authors’ mantras, as is simply showing up:
The Three Touchstones of Showing Up:
- Your kindness is your credential
- Listening speaks volumes
- Small gestures make a big difference
The book also has some annoying features. The two authors are clearly female, middle-class, and likely urban. Too frequently they mention yoga, cappuccinos, malls, and mimosas. They talk often about death, but also lots and lots about infertility and divorce. People do get fired in their book, but it appears that no one they know has experienced discrimination, hate crimes, gun violence, intimate partner violence, or sexual assault.
In fact, rather than wading through the book, I’d suggest you just watch the first 22 minutes of this YouTube video of one of the author’s talks. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srlwPdajDz4) (The remaining part of the 1-hour video includes an interview of the author and a young physician/widow.)
You also might want to check out FORGE’s “I’m Here For You Cards,” a small palm card you can give someone who is having a hard time and that makes simple suggestions about how you can support them. Write us at AskFORGE@forge-forward.org if you’d like us to send you some.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “I’m the one who needs support,” FORGE can help with that, too. Consider signing up for our Trans Survivors Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/transsurvivors/), which has daily positive statements like this one and is open to anyone.
We also sponsor a closed #TransToo Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/TransToo/) on which trans and non-binary survivors of sexual assault (and close loved ones) can share stories and support.
You may also want to check out our trans survivors of sexual assault self-help guides (including a Guide specifically for partners and friends of trans/non-binary survivors) at https://forge-forward.org/anti-violence/for-survivors/guides-for-survivors/. Although they focus on sexual assault, they also contain a lot of information and suggestions about how to deal with traumas of all kinds.