I'm so over 2011. Can we move on to 2012 yet? The universe clearly wasn't done having fun at my expense this year, and now I've lost both grandmothers and my brother in the space of four months. Of course, my training for my big swim is wrecked with just one week to go. I'm physically and mentally exhausted. It's not just this latest loss, that of my other grandmother. It's the cumulative effects of so much in such a short time. It's hard to muster up any enthusiasm for or interest in anything, let alone my first open water swim. I'm lugubrious, despondent, disconsolate, with a side of melancholy. Instead of excitement about Purple Swim, I feel nervous and insufficiently prepared. I hate to admit this, but I'm struggling with maintaining interest in the now happening NFL season. Nothing seems to matter all that much anymore.
I'm so very, very tired of death and funerals. I would like the rest of the year off from death and funerals. In fact, don't have one for me if I should drown or die from a rabid jellyfish attack. I won't attend.
But now that I'm becoming something of an experienced mourner, allow me to make a few suggestions as to how to/ how not to treat the bereaved:
1. Do not comment on appearances, including attire, for the bereaved or the deceased. The bereaved may have had to travel at the last minute and may not have had time or the presence of mind to pack appropriately. Even if they didn't travel as great a distance, the enormity of the loss may make dressing and grooming challenging. And even if you think they look "good," they probably couldn't care less. Yes, my hair's back to long and blond-- do you think I particularly care if anyone likes it, when we're in front of a casket? Noooooo. And do not comment on the deceased's appearance at all, with the possible exception of how peaceful they may look. So many people fed me crap about my brother looking good-- which was total bull because it was obvious he was swollen and beaten up, with heavy makeup necessary, and lying about it just drew more attention to the obvious.
2. Do not discuss politics or religion. I'm more intimately aware than the average bear about what's going on in politics, but I don't really want to hear a political debate in front of a casket. And do not offer platitudes about how "God has a plan" or that the deceased is an angel/ is with the angels or similar such sentiments unless you are absolutely certain that the bereaved would find such sentiments comforting. For example, I consider myself a marginal verging on lapsed, extremely liberal eastern rite Catholic and I find none of those sentiments comforting in the least. I also have 13 years of Catholic education, and I will smack down your misinterpretation of doctrine regarding angels if you annoy me enough.
3. Do not tell the bereaved what they need to do unless they actually need to do it. Yes, get them something to eat/ drink, to sit down or to sleep. But don't tell them to call-- you call them. Don't tell them to email-- you email them. Don't tell them to visit-- you call or email and invite them. Why? Because the phone works both ways, email works both ways, and you're an insensitive berk if you don't realize that lots of people say nice things they don't mean and make promises they don't intend to ever keep, so how should the bereaved know which is sincere and which isn't?
3.a. As a corollary to 3, do not lecture the bereaved for not doing something that you think is important unless a) it actually is important and b) you're not a huge hypocrite about it. And even then, don't lecture. You're probably not a professor, and even if you are? It's not class time. I may also be a little irritated that my grandfather lectured me about not calling when he's never inquired after my or my parents' well-being after losing my brother and only offered the scantest words at the time. It was only for the sake of keeping peace that I didn't snap back that I only returned all of his calls while I've been wrestling with the crippling depression that came with losing my brother. Oh wait, that's right. No calls to return. I can count the calls from anyone outside my parents and closer friends on one hand.
4. Do not make promises you won't actually keep. It makes it difficult for the bereaved to figure out who they can really trust and rely on when the shock wears off and the actual, long-lasting mourning begins.
Finally, a "do":
5. Do shut up and just be there. Talk is cheap, unless it's at 2am and you're willing to talk to someone suffering through grief-wracked insomnia. Hugs, alcohol, and ice cream are even better.