While etiquette and courtesy demand an all-inclusive list of “thank yous” to each every person who has brought food, flowers or favor, I would ask that we throw that convention out the window. Most people I know who go through the death of a loved one are trying to avoid drowning in life. Factor in the supposed requirement of “thank yous” and the potential for stress, guilt and ruined future relationships increases dramatically. If someone has forgotten to thank you for something you have done, especially following a death, please consider yourself lucky that you aren’t the one who experienced the loss. If you care about the person grieving at all, you will ‘forgive’ them immediately with no further thought or comment about the supposed injustice done to you by the lack of an appropriate thank you. If you help a person following a death, please consider your act, gift, or assistance to be reward and acknowledgement enough. While it is true that a grieving person should lean on family for assistance with mundane details, I ask that you step back and assume that grief is almost killing the person who is suffering. The family and friends should be more focused on keeping grief from overwhelming their loves ones. The endless tasks and details of life have their place and I would hope that everyone could try to keep these things in proper perspective. We are all just renting space on the face of this planet. It will one day be our passing keeping our friends and family from moving joyously forward. Let the non-essentials fade to the background and allow shared moments with family and friends take precedence.
This post isn’t about the philosophical meanderings of what ‘it means,’ or even what is important.
Most of our lives are spent with the mundane, trivial aspects of life. More so than the epic moments, the quiet moments experienced minute to minute tend to become our lives and define us. It’s not the shouts; rather, it is the whispers which fill our lives with love, hope, and meaning. A quiet “I love you” when you make eye contact while washing the dishes, the smile of a child laughing at someone ridiculous, or even a shared eye roll at some minor stupidity constantly witnessed in our modern lives: these things are the bulk of our lives, not the proud majestic Kodak moments.
For those who haven’t experienced horrible loss or the incremental loss of someone you love due to illness, it is hard to imagine what it is like on the other side of the fence. Words as always don’t encapsulate either the agony or the ecstasy of being pushed toward coming to terms with the end.
When news reaches our ears of the passing or impending passing of someone once dear to us, our heart swells, as we don’t like the reminder that life proceeds whether we are here to mock it or not. One day, it will soon be upon us to face it, without opportunity to veto or delay its arrival.
While the temptation to overload someone who is dying is almost insurmountable, each of us needs to stop for a moment and ponder what it must be like for not only the person dying but for those who are closest to them. The urge is to immediately reach out, flood the phones with emails, texts, and calls.
Please give those who are caring for the dying the benefit of the doubt if they try to slow down the barrage of visitors, phone calls, texts, and social media. If you are a friend or family member, try to devise a strategy so that those closest aren’t being sucked into an infinite loop of information texts, phone calls, emails, and social media. Two or three key people can more adequately manage the flood of people contacting the family.
While we know that we are overloading those involved, we can’t help ourselves. But we must try. If a person has 100 friends and family, you should stop and think of how long it would take to talk to each and every one of them for even thirty minutes. Upon hearing of someone’s passing, please think about how difficult it must be to carry on. While we need to hear and see words of well-being from those we love after losing someone, we also need quiet time.
I ask anyone who is losing someone close to constantly think of the balance we all need. We all want to see expressions of love and care, but also desperately want long moments of silence and interruptions, moments where we can choose to come out of the shell and be involved with people-when we are ready.
Instead of offering to help when needed, take pro-active steps immediately. Whether it is money to help with bills, funerals and expenses, gift cards for groceries. taking someone’s laundry to ease that household burden, doing errands: focus on “I’m helping” instead of “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” The person suffering with illness and death almost has no ability to prioritize. Let your compassion lead you to decide how best to step in and help without being asked. Most of us still feel guilty about asking for any assistance, even when we truly need it and even when we are drowning in sadness and life.