Thursday, July 29, 2010

Woe Is Us

Why is it, that when someone close to us “passes,” “moves to a better place,” “bites the dust,” or, ( I felt the need for a little levity), we feel the need to tell everyone we see. And I don’t mean just people who know us, or the late beloved. (“They’re not late. They’re not coming.”) But people who we have never seen before, like a construction worker pounding some into a building, the dentist’s new assistant, or a person standing on the street collecting signatures for some cause.

At first I thought I wanted people to feel sorry for me. That was simply wrong. The people who express their love and support and remind us to celebrate life, are far preferable. The people who do an “oh, poor you,” are usually the same people who then dive right into “Oh, poor me,” For example, “I know you lost someone very close to you, but it doesn’t begin to compare to the depth of the tragedy that I felt when my, dog, father, cousin, friend, favorite teacher …. died.”

There could be a reality show in this. Why not go from funeral home to funeral home but instead of asking those who are grieving how they feel, you simply ask anyone in the crowd:
1. How they feel about dying.
2. If they have every experienced anything similar.

There was a time when I believed an absolutely hysterical TV series would be to go to a condo swimming pool in South Florida and ask any elderly person sitting outside, how they are feeling – it’s got to be better than “The Real Wives of …” and “Jersey Shore.” When we asked my grandmother how she felt, regardless of the state of her health, she would always say “better.” You might think that this is ‘a glass half full’ response, while in fact, it was merely a way to start the conversation. “Why grandma? Weren’t you feeling well?” To which there any number of answers:
a. If you called me more often you would know.
b. Yesterday wasn’t go great for me.
c. The doctor was not happy about the results of a test he took last week.
d. I must have eaten something this morning that didn’t agree with me.
e. At my age, you would expect me to feel fine all the time.
f. Don’t worry, it’s just another way God has to remind me I’m falling apart
g. I’m better, but you should hear about Mrs. Schwartz. It shouldn’t happen to a dog.

And those are just a few and still at the starting point. You can only imagine what the possibilities are for the rest of the conversation.

Anyway, back to feeling sorrowful. It’s almost like you think that sharing your sorrow will bring some kind of relief. Some kind of catharsis. While you know the first response will predictably be, “I’m so sorry.” You want to be able to respond beyond “thank you.” You want to be able to say things like, “she was a colorful character,” or “I know I am going to miss even those tedious telephone conversations, when I could hardly hear her because the TV was so loud and she refused to lower it, especially if she were in the middle of a Hallmark movie, or “Judge Judy.” It seems impossible that after all the years she insisted on having some kind of relationship, and all the years you spent together fighting or laughing or crying or telling secrets, that she’s no longer around to be interested.

Then there is the feeling that you need to explain, almost forgive whomever you tell, that you know there are those who are suffering more – like the loss of a child or a spouse or a person who was sick and in pain for a long time. Not sure why any sorrow needs to be measured, but just like it’s hard to be in a room with friends who want only to share silence, it’s equally hard not to comment on the depth of your pain. And I know that, having lost my dad over 20 years ago, the pain never goes away. The absence of a person who you loved deeply, may not intensify, but it’s always lurking – waiting for you to see someone with a similar smile, or style, or dress or reacting in the same way they would have reacted to some situation. And that person is sometimes your children, but more likely it happens when you look in the mirror.

And how do we deal with this loss. My Aunt, (mom’s twin), says she believes that half of her went into the grave and that half of mom stayed with her. (Click on this link.) In “Tuesdays with Morrie”, Mitch Albom writes about an Indian tribe who believed that the person who died became very small and was always sitting on your shoulder – giving you ongoing advice and with that, of course, a headache. As my Aunt Peppy says, we don’t really know what faces us when we die, so we should make something up that makes it as easy as possible to live with the loss.

Contributions to the Gefilte Fish Chronicles Project may be mailed to:
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Jay Carey said...

OK here goes, hope I don't sound too goofy-but I sure wish I could live in NY and be friends with all you guys-the Burnetts and family. I've visited twice, have a nephew on 7th street down by the hospital. Your family
reminds me of some of my family. I've got tons of videos, slides from gatherings and funerals, and all that-oh no, here I go-transfering from your suffering to me after your loss-good lord. any way, I'm sending a check...and photo of my mom's aunt Fredonia. bless you all-jay

Love said...

I remember walking into a supermarket after my dad died and wondering, why are all these people shopping and why do they look like everything is okay.. don't they know my dad just died. It's a feeling that stayed with me for a while after his death and I can recall it like it was yesterday. When someone close to us dies, I think there is a real need to let the world know; it is your world after all, isn't it?

Iris and Clay said...

And Bless you Jay. A loving supportive Family is so important --even with all the craziness.

Anonymous said...

I felt close to my mother wearing my kria (sp). Those who knew what it meant -- looked at me in a caring way. And I told many people my mother died and felt like I was part of something others had experienced.

I don't remember hearing others tell their stories -- but I saw it in their faces. I think I felt the need to let others know my mother died because it validated her life.


Don't know if it this will end up being a double post.... stay tuned.