The title of my entry is a bit strange, but I think by the end of this entry it’ll make sense.
Everyone has their blind spot, something they can’t wrap their mind around no matter how many times they face it. They watch how others react to that particular circumstance seemingly without effort, and all they can do is scratch their head (figuratively or literally).
For me it’s what to do when someone dies or when a friend loses a loved one. I’ve lost both my parents within eighteen months of each other. Because I’m good at compartmentalizing my emotions, I set my grief aside and did what needed to be done and in as short of time as possible. Luckily my sister and I were on the same page throughout the entire process, so we completed almost everything for both our parents within weeks. Our dad’s girlfriend (our parents had divorced a few years earlier) was shocked at how efficiently we took care of our dad’s estate. I’m sure she thought we were a couple of gold-digging vultures when that wasn’t the case at all. It’s who we are; it’s who our parents were. They wouldn’t have wanted us to become blubbering piles of goo when there was work to be done. Our efficiency was a testament to our love and respect for our parents, because that’s how they raised us.
Even before then, though, death to me is a part of life. Sure I miss my parents, but I know I will see them again. Maybe if I wasn’t a Christian I would feel differently. Although… I kind of doubt it. If I were an atheist, believing nothing exists past this life, and I and everyone else ceases to exist the moment we take our last breath, it simply is what it is.
Nothing is ever gained by dwelling on things we can’t control.
Yet I also know my point of view is rather unusual. People grieve much more poignantly than I ever will, and for grief to no longer overwhelm can take months if not years. I don’t consider that a weakness, by the way. It’s merely a different way to process such a deep loss that I can’t embrace for myself. I’m not built that way.
If anything, I’m the weak one when it comes to dealing with death. My lack of true, emotional empathy makes me appear cold and unfeeling. It’s frustrating, because I want to be able to empathize and therefore know exactly how to respond when someone else faces a great loss.
What brought all this on? A friend of mine lost her husband a few days ago. He’d been sick for a while, but at the same time, one can never be truly prepared for losing a spouse. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out what do do and what to say. Sending an email or card with flowers saying “I’m sorry for your loss” isn’t enough. Yet I also don’t want to drop by unannounced bearing flowers and food to express my sympathies either.
I go back to when my parents died and I was actually annoyed by all the expressions of sympathy. Sure I was sad and I appreciated their thoughtfulness, but at the same time, I thought it was unnecessary. I didn’t need it, and I was forced to hold my tongue and simply say, “Thank you.” Still, I do remember their kindnesses such as when my boss had a few pizzas delivered for us.
So what do I do for a friend who just lost her husband knowing anything I do will be inadequate, perhaps even unwanted?
I ended up sending her a text expressing my sympathies and offered a few things I could do (such as pick up groceries, help with her dogs, housekeeping, or a listening ear). Is it enough? No idea. Too much? Again, no idea. Nor has she responded, but I’m not surprised. I’m sure she has a lot more on her mind than responding to a text.
So, yeah, I don’t do death well.
3 thoughts on “Doing Death Well”
Beautifully written sis. Just because you don’t know how to react does not mean you lack empathy. Actually, I believe just the opposite is true. Struggling with what to say or do is empathy. You care about this person and what to give them some sort of comfort. If you didn’t care you would give them the standard response.
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I need to add – “If you didn’t care you would give them the standard response without a second thought.”
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Good point. Thanks!