Thursday, June 05, 2008

Speaking in hushed tones

After a loved one dies, those family members who are left behind face all sorts of different reactions from people. Taken with a grain of salt, each reaction in itself can be rather amusing.

There is the "I've-never-talked-to-you, but-now-I-must-hug-you" people. They may have spent your whole life just on the peripheral of knowing someone you know. And suddenly, after your family member dies, they are all over you with sympathy and words and touching.

Then, there is the "Your-family-member-never-spoke-of-me, but-we-were-dearest-friends" people. These people are much like the "Never talked to you" people, but insist on telling you stories of their memories of your loved one as though it will open great revelations about their character to you. They also feel the need to touch you.

There is the "Never-mention-it-or-the-person-again" people. These people try and act as though nothing is out of the ordinary. And then they will say something like "I am dying to try that new pizza" and then give me a panicked stare like they just swallowed a goldfish.*

There is the "Seeing-you-is-only-a-painful-reminder-of-my-own-pain" people. These folks burst into tears the moment they see you. They are not feeling sorry for you. Of this I am pretty sure.

There are also great people - friends and family - who know when you need comfort and when you need silliness. They know when to talk about the person you lost and when to put their finger up their own nose until you look and laugh out loud. They don't stop calling because it's awkward (because OMG someone died!!) and they laugh (albeit awkwardly themselves) when you make the occasional dead mother joke.

But recently, I have discovered another group I had never noticed before. The "my-family-member-is-ill-and-if-I-talk-to-you, they-are-more-likely-to-die-because-you-are-jinxed" people. This is not everyone, by any means, but here and there, I have found it. The person currently going through what my family went through avoids eye contact with me.

I don't feel hurt or even confused by this action. In fact, I completely understand it. People who have lost people to cancer remind others that it's a real possibility. Mortality exists. All the treatment and the sickness and the chemo and the radiation might fail. Despite your deepest hopes and wishes, your prayers and begging, your family member might die. I think I'd look away from that reminder too.

However, I don't think it's catchy. I'm pretty sure it's not me that's killing people. Well, not yet anyways.

*Seriously, it's like saying "See you later" to a blind person or asking a person in a wheelchair if they want to "take a walk" with you. You're not going to offend them. They know their situation.


  1. There is also the helpful people from church who won't allow you to FEEL ANGRY or even hint at being resentful of the fact you lost someone near and dear to you. Instead, they hush you by quoting scripture at you like they're having an exorcism for your soul. Then there's the rabid Jesus fan who can only say "But you should be HAPPY that they're in Heaven!"

    Blast'em all to hell.

    THEN, there's the silent, blessed minority, quietly working behind the scenes and taking out your garbage and feeding the cat.

    And you never know who did it.

  2. Well, I find it the other way round. I always feel that I have this black cloud over me whenever I'm around families dealing with the same issues we did. And a big sign that says "The magic doesn't always work". At least I can't spout platitudes, so I just try to shut up and listen.

  3. I always feel like I'm flailing whenever someone has died, whether I'm the bereaved or I'm talking to the bereaved. Sometimes, nothing is right, and everything just twists the knife. Other times, I feel like Superwoman because I've somehow said or done the right thing. I wish there was a manual or something: How To Deal With Death Without Making Everyone Feel Worse.

    You put your finger right on it with the balance of comfort and silliness. I wish I could do that consistently.

  4. I wish I knew how to talk to people better. I'm fairly awkward at it under normal situations, but when you add in extra emotions and a sad situation, it makes my small amount of conversation skill go right out the window. I'd like to learn how to move beyond that.

  5. I'm back on the blogosphere grid after just experiencing a death in the family, and I swear you captured each of the types of people we ran across as well. And yes, I have to admit it, I'm just as confuzzled about dealing with these situations as most of those you mentioned...I'm one of the dreaded huggers. Oh, such awkwardness has the Evil Genius!


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