My mother died the end of January after over a decade of dementia and living in a senior care facility. She was one of the lucky persons with “happy dementia” and up until a week before her death she was still being cheerfully gregarious with total strangers even while waiting hours in the Emergency Room waiting area. She was one of those “adorable” old ladies, who, if she had been online, would have charmed thousands with her viral videos. Her death was peaceful and quick. Just the way she wanted it to be.
After my father’s death in 2010, I knew I wanted a more subdued announcement of Mom’s death. In the days after my dad’s death, people offered condolences with reassuring pats on the arm or back, telling me they were sorry, etc. I know they meant well but it began to feel like I was walking through a grief gauntlet where every touch or sympathetic look was enough to start the tears all over again. So, we limited the information to family and close friends. There was no mention on Facebook.
Even with that limited circle of people being aware, there were still people who responded to that information in ways I found discouraging and disappointing. On the good side, one close friend invited me to lunch and then let me talk about my mom uninterrupted. Grieving people need to retell the story numerous times to begin to accept the reality. Another good friend announced that she was bringing us dinner and even though I didn’t feel like I needed a meal, it turned out to be comforting. She called later in the week to tell me she was in my area and asked if I wanted some company. I didn’t but I appreciate her soft kindness.
But two other friends were decidedly thoughtless in how they interacted with me. Both of them, within minutes of me talking of my mom’s death, redirected the topic of conversation to a discussion of their mothers’ deaths, both of which occurred during the summer of 2016. They were clearly still grieving their losses. In the one case, the mother’s death had not been peaceful or without family contentions so I sat there listening to sad details of her death for a lengthy time. In the second case, I had barely spoken three minutes about my own mother when the conversation shifted, not by my doing, to being about my friend’s mother’s death. Had I visited her grave yet? No, I had not. Would I like to, right now, and see the new marker? I love my friend, recognized she needed this and I felt I had no real option to decline so we walked over to the cemetery and we spent the next 30 minutes wandering through graves. All I could think of was how I was going to need to research and purchase a headstone soon.
Intellectually I understand that these women were probably trying to connect with me in a “I’m in the same boat as you” kind of way. The difference is that they had 5 months to mourn and process their grief, I had only 5 days. I felt like my grief had been hijacked because I ended up consoling people about their not-so-fresh grief while I was still dazed. I found it wearying and discouraging.
I believe that when we experience these acts of thoughtlessness by others that there is a practical lesson to be learned, namely to know what not to do in future situations. From an Ehell perspective, we should walk away from these experiences saying to ourselves, “I hope and endeavor to never treat someone that way,” while embracing the positive kindnesses as good examples to emulate.