A new widow and mother-of-six wishes to normalize grief, despite being told to “smile” more.
In July, Shannon Dingle, 37, lost her husband Lee when he was knocked over by a strong wave, which ultimately broke his neck, while playing with his children on the beach in North Carolina. After the incomprehensible loss — the pair had been together since they were teenagers and were raising six children, some with medical complexities — Dingle heard opinions on her grief process.
On Monday, Dingle quoted a recent message she received on Facebook. “‘Come on Shannon. Your new photo is depressing to look at,” she wrote. “I know you can do better [than] that. It was Lee who died not you. I am sorry that you lost him but you need to get on living for your kids. I know you can smile. It gets depressing to watch you that is why I don't follow you anymore.’”
“Remember: it’s about them, not you,” Dingle wrote in her post. “You are not required to smile for anyone or grieve according to feedback from the cheap seats. Flip it off (or stick out your tongue if you’re more proper than I am), and don’t let their nonsense take up space in your brain, not paying rent but trashing the place....You are so worthy.”
“I hear, ‘Things will be better in five years,’ but in five years, Lee will still be dead,” Dingle, a writer, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “My daughter has been asked, ‘How can you smile?’ But you can grieve and still experience a full range of emotions.”
Dingle says people were often heartfelt but unsure of how to respond to her trauma. “As a culture, we’re not that comfortable with grief — it’s why we like our stories to end with ‘happily ever after,’” Dingle tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “People want to connect, but we don’t have good role models for what that should look like.”
A desire to “fix” things drove some comments. “But when people ask what I need — well, I need July 18 and 19 to have not happened,” she explains.
The couple of 14 years had both biological and adopted children: Jocie, 12, Patience, 12, Philip, 10, Robbie, 10, Patricia, 8, and Zoe, 8. The children live with a range of medical issues, such as cerebral palsy, autism, HIV, asthma, and ADHD, and some have post-traumatic stress syndrome partially from witnessing Lee’s accident on the beach.
Dingle has guided her kids through their emotions by explaining that grief is perplexing. “I’ve told them, ‘Life is confusing and sometimes you will laugh and you’ll wonder if that’s OK,’” she says. “There’s no rulebook for this.”
However, Dingle has also welcomed unexpected help. “Some have been very honest, realizing that the usual platitudes won’t cut it,” she says. “That’s been refreshing.” Loved ones have dropped off toilet paper and snacks — necessities to a busy single mother — and volunteered for school pick-up. One friend, whom Dingle hasn’t yet spoken to, keeps mailing her meaningful cards.
At times, Dingle has been speechless for how to communicate her grief. “Sh*tty doesn’t capture it as much as I’d like it to,” she says, jokingly.
“People get self-conscious about what to say, but that’s self-focused,” Dingle tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Don’t try to be perfect, just show up for them.”
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