Death is only hard for the living. May 11, 2015Posted by jeneypeney in Uncategorized.
“Three years ago, I spoke at my grandfather’s memorial service. At the time, the words came to me as clear as day and I had very little trouble putting words to paper. But I had written that speech in my head for years. I had time to figure out what I was going to say about my Grandpa Hodson long before he passed. But I had no idea how to write one of these for my mother. Not yet.”
Let’s be honest. I still have a hard time describing how the death of my mother has impacted my life. The hardest part was how it just… happened. My mother wasn’t sick. She didn’t have cancer or any other terminal condition. My mother wasn’t actively dying.
And then POOF! In the span of a few hours she was fucking dead.
You learn a lot when someone close to you dies. You learn even more when that person is a parent. But I am not writing this blog post to vomit all of that “seize the day” and “life is short” nonsense to you. What I want to do today is talk about how to handle the grieving adult children of the deceased. From my experience, no one really knows how to do that. No one.
My mother’s viewing and memorial service were two of the most painfully awkward and excruciatingly frustrating days of my life. Why? Because being a twenty-something with a dead parent is an elite club that a small fraction of our population belongs to. I get it – you have no idea how to handle me. You have zero clues to how I am feeling. You are at a complete loss for how to comfort me because candy and hugs and “mommy’s an angel now” talk stopped being a viable option roughly two decades ago. My dark and sarcastic dead mom jokes make you uncomfortable. I get it.
So I have pulled together five basic guidelines that will help you express your sympathies in a way that will help everyone involved get through the muck and the tears in one relative piece. Granted, everyone grieves in their own way and not all five of these guidelines will apply to every single young adult that loses a parent. But from my experience, these rules would have made laying my mother to rest just a bit more bearable.
1. Don’t expect us to act like children.
I cannot tell you why, but after most people were done giving me hugs and telling me how sorry they were for my loss, I felt like they kind of stood there almost waiting for me to entertain them. As if I was some seven year old girl who wants to tell you all about her new teddy bear so you can forget how awful death can be. But the truth is I am not a child anymore and I don’t have a new teddy bear; I have crippling debt from student loans and a car that needs an oil change. I may be a child of the deceased, but I am not a child. Whether you want to believe it or not, I graduated from the kids table at Thanksgiving a LONG time ago. I have had enough life experience to fully comprehend the gravity of the situation and the only cute thing I have to tell you is about the girl who just crashed my mom’s wake. You have treated me like an adult at every family function for years now – don’t make this day different.
2. Tell us your memories.
The priest who presided over my mother’s memorial continuously reiterated how important the sharing of stories was to the grieving process. With that being said, the only two people who told me anything were my dad and an old childhood friend of my mother. (The latter only divulged his story after I asked him to.) But people shared TONS of memories with my father. I can’t tell you what made me different – but it was disappointing to come away with barely anything after roughly 12 hours of being showered with sympathy. Pro tip: I WANTED to hear about my mom. It doesn’t hurt to remember the past or learn about her childhood. And just in case you don’t realize it: I am 29 years old and I probably participated in just as many shenanigans and done just as much stupid shit as she had by my age. I have had sex with multiple people. I have drank so much I gave lap dances I don’t remember doing. Your risqué story about how my parents met at a wet t-shirt contest is not going to soil my memory of mom – tell them!
3. Do not tell us about your dead parent.
This one might rub people the wrong way, but it has to be said: unless your parent died in almost the exact same fashion, around the same age, and when you were a young adult – don’t tell me about how hard it was to lose them. Yes, I understand that losing a parent is hard no matter when or how it happens. “Absolutely terrible” is an understatement and I don’t wish it on anyone. But to be quite frank, your mother dying in her 80s after a long battle with cancer does not mean you truly know how I am feeling. I will never get to buy my mother a “World’s Greatest Grandma” mug. I will never get to celebrate my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary (not to mention their 50th). My mother will never send me cheesy “You’re Old Now!” 30th birthday gifts. While you do know my pain of losing a parent – and I appreciate your attempt to sympathize with that – you will never comprehend the type of pain I am in.
4. Simply be there for us.
I have to say that I never would have survived the aftermath of my mother’s passing if it wasn’t for those who were simply just there. If I wanted to cry, they had a shoulder. If I wanted to scream, they had an ear. If I wanted to drink, they had a flask of whiskey. If I wanted to talk, they had a voice. If I needed to laugh, they had an arsenal of internet memes saved in their phone. Whatever I needed, they were there with it. No more, no less. When I was hurting I really just needed you to BE THERE for me in whatever capacity you could. It may not seem like a lot, but it was plenty.
5. Be careful which clichéd sympathetic phrases you tell us.
While I do appreciate that these are things you say to people who have lost a loved one, they sometimes can do more harm than good.
“God only gives you as much as you can handle.”
“She is always with you.”
“Everything happens for a reason”
That is the main trifecta that would send me in to a blind rage. “Well, God’s an asshole, no she’s NOT, and what goddamn reason?!” is all I want to scream back. Sometimes, a simple “I am so sorry, and I am here for you,” is all I needed to hear. Please keep the Hallmark sympathies to a minimum.
With Mother’s Day being this past weekend and the six-month mark approaching fast, my heart is heavier than it has been in recent months. I want you all to be thankful for whatever mother figure you have in your life – not matter how batshit crazy she might be. Someday, you’ll miss those neurotic fights and arguments.
And when that day comes? I am here for you. In whatever way you need me to be.