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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Death and Feelings

I usually have good reasons for doing things however many times I forget what these reasons are.  This was the case as I found myself across from a recent widow, asking her what time I should bring her family dinner.  We'd all been instructed to go through a family friend when asking for the needs of the family and I'd signed up to bring her dinner on what turned out to the be the day of her husband's viewing.
I'd been abrupt and she stared at me like an alien had just grown out of my head.  Her eyes were puffy and red and she was trying to keep it together.
"I don't know," she said.  "I don't deal with that."  Like she didn't know when a good time to eat was.  She wasn't in charge of her schedule anymore.
The thing was, I'd asked her specifically because the viewing was going to be that night, and I wasn't sure if she was going to be fed already.  I knew she wouldn't be home during dinnertime.  But it was like I'd turned into a floating balloon and I couldn't remember why I'd asked her what time to bring food by.  I wa full of air and stupid.  Unable to explain that I could ask someone else, but that I wasn't sure if they would know when she would be home that day.  That specific day, I just stared at her, nodding my head and wishing I could hide under a pew.
"Just ask someone else," said the friend who was currently consoling her, and I couldn't help but feel a little angry.  "Don't talk to me like a child.  I just want to know what time you will be home," was what I wanted to say, but out of courtesy to both parties involved, I just kept nodding my head.
What is wrong with me??  It was like a horrible awkward party in slow motion.
Finally, the gears in her head began to move.
"Oh, wait.  We won't be home after 5," she said.  It finally dawned on her what today was.
"Oh yes, that's why I'm asking." I finally remember that reason why I was even bothering her.
The thing is, one day down the road, she might think about this exchange and decide that I'm a really rude person.  'This sad event isn't about You', she might think.
But, as I stared stupidly at her, what I really wanted to say was, "I know how you feel, that immense sadness.  Like a hole has opened up and you've unexpectedly fallen it and there is nothing but darkness all around you.  The world has turned on it's axis and will never be right again."
But I couldn't do it without bursting into tears and, probably, making her carefully composed face burst into tears as well.
What is it that turns us into idiots when dealing with other people?  Wouldn't it just be easier if we could read their thoughts?  Instead we have to guess at what their thinking and, if we're trying to be polite, figure out how to act.  What holds us back from really connecting with people?  If I'd really been sincere, I would have told her those things that I was thinking.  But trying to spare both of our feelings, I asked her what time I could bring her dinner.
But why can't we let those feelings in?
Actually, I can answer that.

If we let those feelings in, it will consume us, and we will never come out.  That happens to people sometimes.

But isn't there a way that we can reach out and connect with someone who is going through grief, without becoming swallowed in despair? Those moments that we choose to do that, to let them in to see the real parts of ourselves, are the moments that they will never forget and that will connect us on a level that is unlike any other.  I think of the most honest thing that someone else told me when I asked them if it got any easier and he simply said, "No it doesn't."  I was shocked at his words.  It had been several years since his daughter had passed away and surely it had gotten easier?  But, in his honesty, it allowed me to accept the gaping hole in my chest.  That it was a permanent thing.  And that that was ok.

When dealing with those who have recently lost someone, if we let them see that their feelings (grief, anger, sadness, shock and even relief) are completely normal and that, whatever you are feeling, is completely okay.  Validate their feelings.  When we tell them, "Eveything will be okay." isn't that a bit of a lie?  Isn't that like saying, "Really you shouldn't be so sad.  Everything's just fine."  Obviously it depends on the situation, but once someone is dead, they will never ever come back in this life.  So, no, everything will NOT be okay.  But maybe,  "I'm promise, you will learn to live with the loss" is more accurate.  Maybe "It doesn't get better but it does get easier to push away." is more appropriate.  Or maybe, just maybe allow your grief to mingle with theirs and cry a little with them.

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