Coping With Loss – Chapter 1: Condolences

After my mother’s body had been taken to the mortuary and the nerves were finally starting to settle down, the family began informing those close to us about her passing. I had already sent a message to a few of my friends letting them know and decided that since no one reads newspapers anymore (especially the obituary section) it would be best to write something on my mothers Facebook wall to let her friends and co-workers know. Coming up with something to write after a loss can be tough, you want to just be cut and dry with it, but you also have to consider those who will be reading it. Not everyone takes bad news the same, so writing an obituary requires a tinge of tenderness, a smidgen of fluff and a casual insert of reality. I sat for a while trying to think of something, and eventually came up with this;

This morning, with her loved ones by her side, Tina closed her eyes for the last time and passed on. She put up a long fight against an aggressive cancer, and today, decided it was time to stop fighting and finally find some reprieve. While she may be gone, she will never be forgotten. Thank you all for your support over the years, Tina always felt blessed to have so many of you by her through it all.

As to be expected, the post was immediately strewn with comments. Everyone managed to give a lot of support, warm wishes and so on, which at the moment was comforting to hear. We got the occasional calls here and there over the course of the day from people asking what they could do to help. Overall it was a really nice sentiment and while it didn’t ease the pain, it was heart-warming to know so many people cared about her.

Most of my friends were heart-broken to hear of her passing. She was an unofficial surrogate mother to most of them and seeing people I grew up with in such a disarray was unusual. I tried my best to comfort them and make sure we all dealt with it in a healthy manner, myself excluded. See, the problem with me is that I don’t do the whole ‘grief’ thing, especially in public. I don’t enjoy crying in front of others, I don’t particularly want to hug it out or sit down and have a heart to heart about what is really going on with me. I find it easier to just condense all those feelings, raise my head up and move along. It isn’t to say that grieving is bad, I just don’t feel comfortable facing a problem that has no solution.

When you grieve, the end result is just you coming to terms with the notion that a loved one has passed, and that you will never see them again. I didn’t like that mentality. I don’t want to just accept that they died and move along, I want to figure out how it could have been prevented. Finding why she wasn’t able to survive meant that at the end I could find someone to properly blame for the tragic loss that befell me. I point my finger and clearly proclaim that “You were the one that killed my mother”. I guess I could say a lot of that comes from growing up with a father that acted in a similar manner. Whenever he was in the wrong, he bailed, but whenever it wasn’t his fault, he would find someone to blame, regardless of if it made logical sense or not.

So there I was, supporting my friends who had originally came by to do the same for me, and at the same time reassuring my family that things were fine and also ensure they were doing alright. See, most of my family had this notion that my mother passing would be the hardest on me out of everyone. While the level of difficulty for loss will always vary from person to person, it was peculiar to me that the consensus was me having it the worst. With no discredit to my sister, who my mother clearly loved as much as she did myself, the two of us both had times in our lives where we ‘needed’ the devoted attention of our mother to get through a particular hardship. For me it was when I was in my early teenage years, as I magically created an phobia and anxiety disorder out of thin air somehow between the summer of my seventh and eighth grade.

This attention spanned a good several years, with her constantly making sure I was doing okay, and trying to support me through a situation I still struggle to deal with on a daily basis (and will continue to do so for the rest of my life). During this time I developed a close bond with my mother, one that would become some grand combination of friend and son. There was unlimited trust, a comforting stability and an understanding of the way each-other thought. Personally, it is what I believe to be the best relationship a parent can have with their child, one where they are still respected as both a parent and adult, but also able to kick back and laugh about stupid stuff and or crack jokes to one another. There was no need to keep things from her, because disappointment would always turn into support with her.

Regardless, when my mother passed, I felt that the one who would take it the hardest would be my grandparents. While they are amazing people who have always been there to support their children as well as grandchildren, they are also the survivors that never should have. There is always that saying “A parent should never have to bury their child“, and that saying is true. Watching your child die in your arms is something no parent should have to live through. Most parents come into the world dreading the fact they will have to leave their children behind, children never dread that they will have to leave their parents behind. As time has gone on, they have started to adjust to this new life without their daughter, and generally are back to their old happy selves.

Unfortunately their is, and always will be, that tinge of sadness that looms over them. Every-time I see them I can tell they are still torn about it all. There is nothing wrong with that, it is to be expected, but it is certainly not easy to deal with. I try my best to support them in any way I can; visiting them, going out places with them and so on, but there is only so much that can be done. I can’t take away the things they’ve seen and experienced. I can’t undo the hardship that has befallen them, or give them hope for a better tomorrow. Losing a child is shit, and the pain you experience from it will carry with you the rest of your life. I hope that in time, they will find a stable balance between grief and hopefulness, and maybe one day come to terms with the loss rather than trying to fixate on it.

Back on track; after things with my friends settled down, family members were beginning to rationalize it all and people were informed about her passing, the next stage in loss came out. Condolences. While it is nice to receive, it can also be overwhelming. I am not a big people person, I talk to maybe 5-6 different people a month, and that is mostly people working at a cash register. So when I was presented with over a dozen people sending me messages or calling giving their condolences, you can see my situation. At first it was pleasant, then it slowly became exhausting. My natural introverted tendencies are to avoid contact with as many people as possible, but my stern upbringing taught me to never be rude to strangers either. It was a conflict that had only one real resolution; optimization.

While it sounds disingenuous, I needed to come up with a way that would allow me to give appreciation to those who contacted me while also making my contact with them as minimal as possible. I came up with this line;

Thanks, I truly appreciate your support. It has been tough, but thankfully I’ve had a lot of support from friends and family.

I kid you not that was a note I had saved so I could copy and paste it for when people messaged me. Not to beat a dead horse, but I can’t stress enough how genuine I was for all the condolences, it was just hard for me to be bombarded with so many people I’d have never met or haven’t talked to in a long time telling me how sorry they were for my loss. There is only so many times you can get the same message before you start to give up trying to write back creative responses and just get down to the point. I’m thankful you sent me a message, I’ve had a lot of support during this hard time in my life and you sending me a message meant something to me. I am a cold and calculated person, but I am not heartless.

Another joyful part of condolences is receiving flowers. This I will admit is where my empathy ends and my bitterness begins. I hate flowers. They are over-priced slowly dying plants that will look great in some barely seen corner of my home but will eventually wither away and be thrown out. I just finished watching my mother pass away and then someone sends me flowers? Do you not see the irony? It is like saying “Sorry for your loss, here is another dead thing to make you feel better”. I mean I watched a human wither away and die, you think I really want to fill my home with plants that will basically do the same, condescendingly reminding me of the tragic loss I am trying to deal with? Thanks, but no thanks.

I understand the reason, it is just like how you give a present on valentines day or an anniversary. You’ve been raised with the notion that giving flowers is a nice gesture, but for me, it is not. I do not share that same sentiment, and I know I am certainly not the only one. Other members of my family also received a handful of flowers and were met with the same feeling of dread as they watched these lovely plants slowly die. I will however admit that a few people actually gave me living plants (in pots that could be planted), and I still have them. I like to garden in my spare time, it is relaxing, so getting plants I can take care of and grow actually help my mind stay at ease while coping with the loss far more than a bouquet did.

I didn’t mean to get off on a tangent there, but it was just something that really perturbed me. I wasn’t angry with the people who sent them, more so at the stereotype that flowers are a gift for those who’ve lost someone. As always, thank you to all who showed your support by sending anything, while the bouquets are all gone now, I still keep the cards that were sent with them. While it was overwhelming for me personally, having so many people show their support really gave me comfort in knowing that my mother wasn’t just some spec of dust in a desert.

After the condolences began to die down, what came next was getting all those people together and grieving together in a room.