Death and how we deal with it can be different for each of us.
The truth of my situation is that my parents were both suffering, so it was a relief when they left. Mother didn’t even know us any longer and dad lost his ability to communicate or walk, which for him, as independent as he was, was a fate worse than death. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss them, and interestingly enough even though we’d had a challenging childhood, I remember mostly the good with the occasional bad along with their redeeming virtues, such as they were. I see their passing as their chance to be made whole again. For example, mother loved to garden, so I have visions of her ambling through a beautiful garden helping to prune and nurture it. I see her feeling privileged and fulfilled at God having given her hands something to do. Dad on the other hand, I picture challenging God, cracking his jokes and playing devil’s advocate for some of God’s questionable decisions over the millenniums and/or, he could very well be just picking his brain. I can see God either dodging him, maybe smiling at his questions or perhaps giving him to someone “else” to deal with. LOL You don’t know my dad.
I think how we mourn is personal and every individual does so differently and we should grant them consideration, without judgement.
I remember a woman I worked with, who lost her son in a horrible traffic accident while her mother in law was driving. She never cried or seemed sad and was her usual self the very next day! We were all shocked she would even come to work. We all thought differently of her from then on, most assuming she was a heartless you-know-what, like how could she do that? We all knew the boy was adopted, but he was still their child. I would personally hate to lose my step siblings, of whom I am greatly fond of, but we are all different. I heard from other sources that from that point onward she would not speak to her mother in law again. Her birth child had survived and the grandmother was unhurt. It made me question whether or not to drive my own grand kids around and I would always take extra precautions knowing I would not want the weight of that guilt. Later this woman and I would talk about it years later and I learned that there were so many things she had to process. Hate, anger, grief and so much more. It wasn’t that it didn’t weigh heavily on her, she just wasn’t ready to face it, much less deal with all of them. She segregated her emotions to another part of her psyche to work through later and yes, her relationship with her mother in law was never the same and she admitted that she couldn’t stand to even look at her. That’s a lot of anger. Being a grandmother, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the grandmother. For them both really.
Some people grieve passionately, wailing and carrying on for days, months and years sometimes. Some are quiet and private. Some never get over the death of a loved one. Some erect shrines and shut out everything and everyone around them, focusing only on those they lost.
One of my sisters is a case in point. When her daughter died, she created a shrine with pictures and candles all around and that was her entire focus. Her other two daughters were being sorely neglected. It broke my heart. Her infant daughter, born severely brain damaged, due to a delivery issue, having been without oxygen off and on for parts of an hour, was blind, deaf and had little sense of touch. For two years she tube fed her and cared for her. The child had not been expected to live beyond a week with all her issues. When she did, the doctors told her it wasn’t likely the child would grow but instead remain an infant. In part that was true. Her features did mature but her body didn’t. After faithfully caring for her and loving on her, the child began to respond to the resonance of her family’s voices and constant stroking. The doctors were amazed. The long and short of it is that after two years and several surgeries, she caught pneumonia and expired. My sister was especially devastated.
She resented anyone that said her baby girl was “better off” or “in a better place”. She mourned her this way for over a year. I finally sat down with her and reasoned with her, pointing out that if she truly believed in God’s promises, then she will see her little girl again some day. In the meantime, she needs to get back to being a mom to the two she still had. I pointed out that continued neglect of her daughters like she had been doing could easily result in them resenting their sisters memory. I said a whole lot more, but that was the gist. I didn’t tell her she couldn’t mourn her or talk about her but she needed to get back to loving and caring for those still with her. The wonderful thing is she did just that and to this day she and her girls are very close.
I have heard people deify family members that were horrid, or that they treated horribly while alive. Especially widowed spouses or the remaining parent with children. I understand it, but at some point in time an honest appraisal may be necessary. My husband and I have had that talk since he was 8 or so when his father died and I think his mom elevated him to sainthood when he passed, so we sometimes speculate at what he may have been truly like. The reality being that no one is perfect and it’s okay to share that. How adults and children grieve is often different with elements of the same. Theirs can be more intense. Children can sometimes show their sadness through blaming, anger, alienating themselves from others, disinterest and sometimes resentment to the remaining parent and/or worse guilt. One never knows how they will be.
Some have no emotion whatsoever, others rejoice and for some, it brings peace. Because of that when it comes to condolences, one never knows the perfect thing to say.
My aunt, (my step fathers sister) came to my mothers funeral and said, at her graveside that she wanted to make sure the bitch was dead. It, of course offended a great many people there. She never got it that mother was mental, so whatever you do, don’t do that.
At my father’s funeral, people brought in newspaper clippings of all the amazing things my dad had done. Never was there a mention in any of them that he had any children. (He’d left mother when I was 15 and never paid child support or acknowledged our existence) Because we lived clear across the country, we were no longer a part of his life, not until we were adults and only because we sought him out. Until I moved back there to care for him, most people in the community were shocked he had other children besides my one sister who lived near him, because he never spoke of us. That was painful and added another level of sadness.
The reverse can also be true though, you may learn a side about someone you never knew before, like my step dad. My step dad who was droll and generally humorless was a cut up at work. I remember my step sisters being shocked that his coworkers were talking about their father. He had once won an award for employee of the month. Because he has such a sour countenance, we learned that someone had submitted his mug (picture) to some show, either Jay Leno’s or David Letterman’s, where they displayed unlikely winners of “employee of the month”. His was aired!!! None the less, my siblings would have given anything to have known that person they were hearing about, yet overall they were glad to learn he wasn’t always a stick in the mud.
I think discernment and situational awareness is essential. Sometimes it pays to check out the tone and expressions of the bereaved before saying too much.
When it comes to condolences, choose your words wisely. It is probably one of the hardest things to do tactfully and often, the less said, the better. You can’t always know a family’s back story and you can add to a person’s grief by exposing something unnecessarily. Unless of course, that is your intention.