Conversing with the Bereaved
Why is it that when you reveal that you’ve recently lost a loved one, people feel compelled to ask:
“Were you close?”
As if gauging the response to this question gives them some insight whether it’s appropriate to email you the latest must-see youtube link or whether there’s actual danger that you might burst into awkward tears, in which case the asker might want to consider backing away with a pained look and an:
“ohh. I’m so sorry.”
Which is always so well intentioned. But I can’t stand it. When I hear it, I can’t help feeling like I should alleviate their misplaced remorse with a platitude of my own:
“She was old and tired. I think she was ready.”
When really, who the hell am I to know? Was that just a line that she was feeding us to alleviate our own unavoidable sorrows? So that when she was gone, as she knew she would be, we would be able to tell ourselves that:
“She’s at peace now. In a better place.”
I’m guilty of these myself, of course, when faced with someone else’s grief. In my heart I wish I could take their pain away. But I can’t. So I offer to do anything else that might be within my human power:
“Please tell me if there’s anything I can do… If there’s anything you need…”
And when I say this, I mean: do you need me to cover a meeting for you or bring you more tissues. Maybe pick up some take-out and swing by your place. I mean: tell what I can do to make myself feel useful. Because I already know what they need. What they need is their loved one back. For the pain to end. For this all to be a bad dream.
That’s what I need, anyway, as I move through this very surreal week that began with Monday – the first time in over ninety years that the sun set on a world without my grandmother in it – and will conclude on Sunday – when we toss roses and handfuls of earth over what’s left of her and lower it slowly into the ground beside her husband. I need her voice and her cold hands and the funny dance she always did. I need to be enveloped in her arms and her Chanel perfume and to hear her call me sweetheart angel just one more time.
But I’m a grown up now. And I know what’s what. In the hierarchy of tragedies, this is neither shocking nor unexpected. I know there’s a game to be played and I know that it makes us all feel better in some immeasurable way. So I’ll put on my brave smile and join in the chorus. The call-and-answer refrain of platitudes and hollow comfort. I will know, in my heart, that they mean well. I’ll tell them:
And I’ll mean it. Truly. I could do no better.
This post was inspired by the writing prompt over at Mama Kat’s: One pet peeve that shouldn’t drive you crazy, but does.
Check out the rest of the posts from some super talented writers.