As a white middle class Australian, I’m confident when I say that people don’t know how to act when someone dies.
Other cultures have traditions like not moving anything or wearing the same clothes for days. Maybe it’s the lack of traditions to hold onto that result in the dumb things people do while trying to comfort the grieving individual.
For example, here’s a sample of just some of the things that were said to me after my dad died from cancer:
“It was because he drank so much Diet Coke.”
“It was because he didn’t eat organic.”
“At least now you’ll be able to go to his gravesite and win all the arguments.”
And about three years after his passing it was suggested that I go and talk to someone because I didn’t seem to be “getting over it”.
Even to this day if it comes up that my father has passed away it gets very awkward very quickly. Even at my dad’s wake things were a bit awkward.
Samuel Johnson speaks to Mia Freedman about how he wants to grieve for his sister Connie. Post continues.
Nowadays when people ask about my family I don’t mention my father in hopes to save us all from that uncomfortable moment. Now if people ask I just say he’s dead. I’ve given up my quest to make others feel less uncomfortable. And I use that word, ‘dead’. Not ‘passed away’ or ‘gone’ or anything that’s slightly ambiguous. Because if they missed the first clue I gave them, I don’t want them to misunderstand a second time.
Several of my thirty-something friends with deceased parents have reported experiences that parallel mine. Many people just don’t know what to do. The following is a cheat sheet I’ve done up. It’s a bit vague and not one of those neat tick and flick ones because grief isn’t neat. I’ve written this down because about eighteen months ago my mother received her own cancer diagnosis. And for the long term it’s not looking good.
Here are a few things I need you to understand when it comes to my grief:
1. Do not ask me to take family photos at the funeral.
Because that’s what happened at Dad’s funeral, Grandad’s funeral, Grandma’s funeral…Why? I know it’s the first time in ages we’ve all gotten together but if you really want photos let’s all pull our fingers out and organise a cheerier event. For goodness sake people are grieving, just because we’ve all got cameras in our phones these days doesn’t mean we have to use them.
2. Understand that grief is not a straightforward process.
It’s unpredictable. Grief is as brutal as it is ugly, it builds as it takes away. Some days I felt like I was drowning in emotion. Other days I felt fine until I went for a run and ended up ugly crying the whole 10kms.
3. I won’t be the same on the other side.
To walk through grief is to walk through fire. Grieving for my dad refined who I was. It made me more determined and less tolerable for time wasters. My social circle is smaller, and my calendar is nowhere near as full.