Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Tracks of My Tears

I've been thinking a lot about end of life issues lately. Partly because we talked about it in class this week, partly because the 27th anniversary of my Dad's death was earlier this month, and partly because I'm going to 2 funerals in the next few days

The funerals are the worst part of middle age, as far as I'm concerned. Although I bet it gets worse when it's my friends who are dying, and not their parents.

During this week's lecture, and then with a facebook chat with a friend, I've had the opportunity to think and talk about the fact that we don't do grief and mourning well in this country.

We're lucky if we get 3 days off when someone in the immediate family dies, and if it's a cousin or an aunt or uncle, we're fortunate if we can take the few hours it might take to go to a local funeral. Once the funeral is over, well, that's all she wrote. We are expected to go back to work and get on with our lives like nothing happened. I read an article that popped up on Yahoo this week, and Michelle Williams (she was married to Heath Ledger) was talking about hard it was after he died. She made the comment that in Victorian times we got to wear black, then gray, then mauve, then pink, as we moved through the mourning period. Today there is no acceptable outward manifestation of our grief, and I think that's a shame.

The other thing that's gone the way of Victorian times is the vocabulary of grief. We don't know what to say to each other when we grieve. Platitudes like "He's in Heaven now with his Dad" (said to my mother when my 22 year old brother died) can cause more pain than comfort to some. My Dad was only 50 when he died, so Mom's response was that both of them were too young to be dead. As one friend pointed out, after his father's death, getting syrupy sympathy cards only made him dread more cards, and his father was still dead as a doornail.

I know that I struggle with knowing what to say, what to do, how to comfort those who are in pain. And looking back at the times I've been in mourning, it's hard to say what helped the most. Except I know my friends showing up at the funeral meant a lot, my friends making me go to baseball games I didn't care about meant a lot (during my Dad's illness--thanks, Roger), and my friends who pulled me forward and out of the daze of grief meant a lot. It wasn't so much what anyone said, but absolutely what they did.