People say the stupidest things at funerals and since I’m a people, I’m including myself in that list. At Leah’s funeral, I said to one of her sons, “It’s really good to see you.”
I opened my mouth, asked my brain operator to give me a funeral appropriate phrase; but, my message got rerouted to the “Things you say at a pool party” library. After I heard what I said, I was as bewildered as her son was. Having buried my own mother, I can say that I remember little of what was said to me that day; so, it’s possible that he either won’t remember it or didn’t hear me at all. On the other hand, I do remember many of the ridiculous things people said; so, he may have heard and shifted me into that category. At any rate, my gaff got me thinking about grief and what we say to the grieving.
I am a white woman of Scottish and Danish ancestry and always have been; so, northern European culture is really the only one I know very well. Based on that, I don’t think that the culture does a very good job of grieving. It’s the whole British “keep a stiff upper lip” thing. As soon as someone dies, we start vomiting platitudes like the emotional sheep we’ve been conditioned to be, telling the grieving things meant to comfort them and to get them over their grief quickly.
- She’s in a better place.
- He’s not hurting anymore.
- At least you had time to get used to the idea. (When the deceased has been ill for a long time.)
- She wouldn’t have wanted to live like that.
- He died doing what he loved.
- etc., etc., etc.
You know what? That’s craaaa-aaaa-p!
All of those plaaa-aaaa-aaa-titudes may be true (except the getting used to the idea thing), but when I’m in the moment of grieving, I. don’t. care. The fact is: I’m not grieving for them. I’m grieving for myself. I’m grieving that I won’t see that person I love again. I’m grieving that I can’t call them on the phone, go out to lunch, send a birthday card, get a text or just spend time with them. Sometimes it’s about hurting for the pain others I love are experiencing; but, most often, it’s about me, not them.
And I say that’s okay.
I think we should allow ourselves to feel that selfish grief for a time. If I am to heal and reconcile myself to this new reality, I must feel that grief. I have to feel that disbelief, that anger, and that sadness in order to be healthy myself. There is a certain order and defined steps to how humans grieve. My aunt Judy has a master’s degree in thanatology and can say it much better than I can; however, at the core of what she would (and does) say, is that we have to follow that grief order to avoid complications for ourselves. Our minds need to go through the steps.
I believe that we would all deal with death a great deal better if we took cues from some other cultures and wailed, keened and yelled out our grief at funerals. Instead, we hold it in. Historically, we’ve even hired mourners to grieve for us! That’s like hiring someone to heal my broken leg. They can sit around on the couch all day for weeks with their healthy leg in a cast; but, it’s my leg that’s broken and must be set, immobilized and allowed time to knit. It’s my leg and my heart that have to heal. And I’m going to take the time to let them do just that.
Also, I’ve had a talk with my internal operator about routing my requests to the right department. And to Mitch, what I meant to say was: Your mother was a fine woman and I am so sorry for your loss.