Having someone whom you love die is difficult at the best of times. Not only do you miss them a dozen times a day, but you are struggling to continue without them. But, if that is not enough, you have to deal with people – all of them well-meaning, but many of them annoying regardless of their motives.
If my experiences of grief are any indication, here are the sort of encounters that may tax your patience as you grieve:
- Suddenly, your life is one continuous conversation about the deceased. Facebook and email can reduce the repetition, but people will still want you to repeat basic information about what happened many more times than you care to give it. You may find yourself longing to have a normal conversation, and escape for a while.
- We are such a death-denying culture that at the first indication of it, everyone descends into cliches and euphemism. “They had a full life,” people will tell you, and, “At least they didn’t have any pain” if the person died unconscious (as if they could somehow know). Oh, and it’s no longer a memorial service – now, it’s a “celebration of life.”
- When you break the news of the death, almost everyone will ask, “Is there anything that I can do?” Probably, you will be unable to answer this question, because you don’t really want anything, unless it is for a miracle to restore the dead to life.
- People with religious tendencies will hand you copies of cheerful and cheesy poems about how the person who died is happy in heaven and you shouldn’t grieve. These offerings are supposed to console you.
- The employees of funeral homes and similar businesses often seem to think the way to cushion your shock is with an unctuous sleaziness, full of insincere concern and sympathy, and a setting with a conservative grandeur that is reminiscent of the movie palaces of the 1930s – and almost as shabby.
- If you hold a religious ceremony, avoid clerics who didn’t know the deceased. While they may do their best, often the results are embarrassing. You may not get someone like Father Movie Critic, who turned my father-in-law’s funeral into a review of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, but don’t be surprised if you do.
- Don’t be surprised if a service is seen by drama queens as their personal stage, as though the service is really all about them. Given any chance whatsoever, they will monopolize the microphone, and throw themselves sobbing into any arms that happen to be nearby. Often, the intensity of their grief is in inverse proportion to how well they knew the dead person.
- People will promise or propose almost anything in the aftermath of a death. Much of what they say will be said without much thought and they will soon forget it, so do not remind them of it.
- After the service, people will expect you to be ready to carry on with your life. Since services are generally held within a few weeks of the death – often, within ten days – you almost certainly will not be ready for anything, but there is nothing you can do except try to cope.
In any of these situations, you might be tempted to rant or verbally flay those around you. For instance, when someone told me that the death whose aftermath I was enduring was sad, I wanted to phone them up and scream, “Sad? The ending of Casablanca is sad. King Lear entering with the dead Cordelia is sad. This is a bloody tragedy!” Instead, I just unfriended them on Facebook.
The truth is, most of the people who do the things I mention here mean very well, and will only be hurt and surprised by such outbursts. The behavior I describe here are just some of the things that you have to endure and get past, day by day. Still, it is bitterly ironic that so much that is meant to be sensitive and caring only ends up picking at you like a shirt in which a hundred mosquitos are trapped between you and the cloth.