Monday, July 14, 2014

The Smelly Person on the Bus

Grief is like having to sit next to a smelly person on a bus.

You have an assigned seat and can't move. The trip is very long (maybe forever). You don't want to sit next to this smelly person, but you don't have a choice. Sometimes you can barely smell the person, at other times they lean so close to you, they suffocate you with their stench. At times you think you might vomit from the stink, at other times you can go a whole day without noticing it.

At some point you wonder, "Why me? Why do I have to be stuck next to this smelly person?" You look around and see people who aren't seated next to a smelly person. You feel jealous.

But this does not make your neighbor any less smelly.

You notice someone has a very loud seat mate.  Another person has a neighbor who won't stop poking her. You feel horrible for these people. You think, "I'm so glad I don't have to listen to that loud person, and I can't imagine how someone endures being repeatedly poked!  How do they handle it?  I can't believe I am feeling so horrible about my smelly person when others are dealing with worse neighbors!  I am so selfish!"

But thinking others have it worse than you doesn't make your neighbor less smelly either. The smelliness is still a problem, no matter what the other riders are experiencing.

You try to ignore the smell.  It doesn't work. You try to address the smelly person directly. You say, "Could you move to another seat?  You are making me uncomfortable."

The smelly person does not move.

You get very angry with the smelly person.  You yell, "I am so sick of you!  I hate you!  You are ruining my entire bus ride!  Get away from me!"

The smelly person does not react.

You realize that you have no control over the fact that you have been assigned to sit next to this person.  The only thing you have control over is how you react to the smelliness.

The situation is not ideal.  You would not have chosen to sit here, but you have no choice.

Eventually it dawns on you that even though the smell is bad, you can see pretty views out the window.  You can still read that book you were looking forward to reading. When another bus rider tells you they have been seated next to a smelly person too, you find you have true empathy and offer support and constructive ideas for how to endure, and maybe even still enjoy, the bus ride. You feel good that you could help that other bus rider.

You develop some coping skills: you breathe through your mouth, you lean away from the person as much as possible.  You chant repeatedly inside your head, "I can deal with the smell. The smell with not ruin my ride."

Even with your new coping skills, you still have days when you feel you can't tolerate the smell no matter what you do.  You get angry at the smelly person again.  You look around and feel jealous of the other riders again.  You feel guilty about the riders you think have it worse than you again.

On these days, you fear that you have learned nothing about how to cope with your situation. However, each time you get frustrated, angry, jealous, or guilty, you are quicker to remember the view out the window and that good book on your lap.

One day you are far enough along on the ride to say to yourself, "This is how things are now. I am sitting next to a very smelly person. I don't have to like it, but I can't let it completely ruin my bus ride, either."


  1. THis is such a beautiful analogy of grief. Yes, you cannot control what may have happened whether it was a death of a loved one, loss of friendship...anything that is a loss that impacts you...but you can control your reactions. Grief takes time and work. The pain won't leave, but it will lessen.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Kimberly. I have struggled with trying to explain how I feel and this is the closest I can come. And you are right, grief comes in many forms, not necessarily just in the loss of a loved one through death. Thanks for stopping by!