I am terrible with a lot of things. Most of them social-related. But most of all, I am terrible with the grief of others. Most specifically, the grief when someone has died.
I never know, when someone has passed away, what to say. I assume you’re supposed to say, “I’m so sorry.” But then I think, everyone says that. So does the mourning person need to hear that AGAIN? Really? Don’t they think you’re being very disingenuous if you’re just saying the same thing everyone has said? But if you try to shake it up and you say something like “He/she is in a better place,” well, I think the mourning person has a right to punch you in the schnozz. Dead is a better place? Than being alive? And there next to you so you can talk to them and hug them and tell them how much you love them? I mean, I guess. If they’d been burned over 98% of their body and were in agonizing PAIN or something. But otherwise, no. Earth is a better place. Isn’t it? At least most of the time?
Mostly I just give them a hug and kind of a sad face like I am SO SAD that I don’t know what to say. It’s not completely false. I don’t know what to say. Because that grief, that loss, is huge. And my stupid, awkward, clumsy words aren’t going to make it any better.
This is why I avoid going to wakes and funerals as much as I can. Because if you’re not there, you don’t have to say these things. You can send a card. It’s completely acceptable to write “I am so sorry for your loss” in a card. Or “If there’s anything I can do, please let me know.” Or things like that. That doesn’t seem as weird as those words coming out of your awkward stupid mouthhole.
Also, wakes are the worst because of the dead person. The dead person hanging out RIGHT THERE.
I’m trying to think, and if I’m remembering correctly, I’ve been to maybe four wakes in my whole life? Maybe five. Or six. I wonder if I went to my great-grandparents’ wakes? I was pretty young when they died. As you can see, that averages out to about one every ten years, unless you count my great-grandparents, which I don’t think I will. My plan to avoid wakes so I’m not the awkward weirdo in the room is going SPLENDIDLY. Three were family members and one was a close friend’s relative and I love her and her family so much that I didn’t care about the awkwardness, I was going to be there for her, dammit. And I was.
And I’ve been to two funerals. They’re not AS awkward. And after my first one I was very sad we didn’t get to do that cool “throwing dirt on the dead person’s coffin” thing that they do on television. I always wanted to do that. Do only certain religions do that? I’m honestly curious. Or is that only a television thing?
Anyway. The dead person. OK, so the dead person is just hanging out there, and the dead person is so made-up they look whorish, and I realize (listen, I watched a LOT of Six Feet Under) that if there was no makeup on the dead person, that dead person would look, well, dead. All gray and sunken and it’d be like four hours in the room with a zombie corpse. I get it. But Andreas told me the other night that the point of an open coffin was closure. Well, wouldn’t people get more closure from seeing the dead the way they really are, as opposed to all tarted up? I mean, sincerely. My poor grandmother was made up like a $2 Amsterdam whore. (NO, I have no idea if there are $2 whores. Don’t all go flocking to Amsterdam to find these $2 whores and report back to me all angry they charge substantially more. I USED $2 TO MAKE A POINT.) My grandfather had so much base on he looked like he’d been tanning. He would have been SO ANGRY about this.
Also, and I know we’ve talked about this before, but the amount of sentimental crap, the garbage tchotchkes, that people put in the coffin with the dead person? INFURIATE AND DISGUST ME. This is the most hilarious thing in the world to my dad. He knows how much this upsets me so all he has to do to get me to rant is to say, “Hey, Amy, when you die, want me to put little crystal animals in your coffin with you?” and he’ll get a twenty-minute harangue about “WHAT THE HELL OLD MAN? THIS ISN’T THE GLASS MENAGERIE! I AM NOT BLUE ROSES! AND IF YOU ALLOW PEOPLE TO PUT TRASH IN MY COFFIN I WILL HAUNT YOU TO *YOUR* GRAVE! THIS IS WHY I WANT TO BE CREMATED!!!” Then he laughs and laughs.
Also, you get fake-criers? Do you know what I mean by this? People who I think LIVE for death like vultures of mourning and they come up to the grieving family and they’re all “I AM SO SO-HO-HO-REEEE” and then they like shake with all the grief and when they finally move the hell on, one of the family members asks another, “Who was that?” in a hushed tone out of the side of their mouth, and NO ONE KNOWS. Because they’re NOT EVEN TANGENTIALLY INVOLVED WITH THE DEAD PERSON. They are GHOULS. PROFESSIONAL MOURNING GHOULS. Now, before you say “Amy, come on, everyone has their own way to show grief,” no. I don’t even care. Being obnoxious and making a funeral all about you is not appropriate.
(Also, I’ve already informed my parents that when they die, I’m hiding in the back of the funeral home. Or, even better, under my bed. Because I refuse to be in the line of people that all the mourning people come through and condole and touch. TOUCH! Can you even IMAGINE? I don’t know those people. I don’t want my grief on display. WHY ARE WE SO GHOULISH ABOUT MOURNING IN THIS COUNTRY?)
Seriously, I want to put our dead on a boat, light the boat on fire, and set that ship a’sailin’. The Vikings had the right idea. This whole thing is stressing me the hell out.
All of this snarky leadup is to tell you that my beloved great-aunt Jan passed away last week and I will be attending her wake tonight which is an hour away in the town where she used to live and I will be seeing my extended family who I love very much and my father was on vacation but he cut it ten days short because it was his last aunt or uncle left on that side and he’s kind of devastated and made a marathon drive back from Florida for the services and I don’t best know how to handle all of this. Not even a little bit. So what I do when I’m freaked out is I become very inappropriately sarcastic because that is the wall I hide my pain behind. What? That’s not normal? Too bad, it’s all I know.
(Also, FYI, through a snafu of miscommunication, where did I find out about her death? THROUGH A FACEBOOK POST. It was one of those “I thought your father would tell you!” “I thought your mother would tell you!” things. No. I READ ABOUT IT ON MY LUNCH BREAK AT WORK. This is not what Facebook is for. Facebook is for theater announcements, kitten GIFs, and people getting ranty about politics. THAT IS ALL THANK YOU.)
Aunt Jan was my grandmother’s baby sister and she was awesome, you guys. She got married and had three very little kids and then her husband died in a terrible accident only a handful of years into their marriage and she raised those kids all by herself. (And those kids became three amazing adults that I love to pieces, and their kids are great, too.)
She was tough as nails. She was a nurse and a teacher and she was wickedly sarcastic and funny and one of the most independent and intelligent women I’ve ever had the honor to know. She was never on time for anything and she couldn’t sleep any better than my dad and I can and when she laughed, you couldn’t help but laugh along with her, because she laughed with her whole self. And she listened and cared with her whole self, too. She was just the best. And she was tiny, only a little over five feet, but she was a FORCE. She entered a room and you KNEW. She and her sister, my grandmother, were the best of friends, and went on many jaunty adventures together, just the two of them, getting into all kinds of shenanigans. And when my grandmother died, and I’d talk to Jan, sometimes I would just close my eyes, because they had the same voice. And I could pretend my grandmother was still talking to me and she wasn’t gone from my life forever because, oh, you guys. How much I miss my grandmother. How much I miss hearing her voice. How much I miss making her laugh.
Two years ago, she had a stroke, which is what my grandmother died of, and I broke one of my most important rules and went to the hospital to see her, because I was not able to see my grandmother before she died because I lived five hours away and everyone said, “no! Don’t worry, don’t bother coming home” and I didn’t and then she was gone and I couldn’t have lived with myself if that happened again. (I avoid hospitals as I avoid wakes or funerals. Hospitals are where they put your loved ones before they die and no one escapes and they smell like death and despair and soup and cheap cleanser and they make my chest hurt.) Even though the hospital still smelled like death and I felt like probably I would die the minute I entered, I soldiered on. She looked terrible and so small and there were a million tubes and wires and her eyes looked so scared and my family was all exhausted and I hate these things, you know? I find death very stupid and very terrible and I don’t know how to deal with it. And, as mentioned, my default is humor, but I highly doubt that’s appropriate there. (Not that it doesn’t slip out sometimes. And sometimes it’s totally appreciated, and sometimes not so much. The phrase “tough room” was built for a room of people waiting to find out if their beloved mother is going to make it through the night, I’d think.)
But she did pull through, only she couldn’t talk or move much, and she moved to Pennsylvania to live with her son, and this past week she had an aortic aneurism and it was fairly quick, I think, only two years isn’t all that quick, not really, not if you think about not being able to talk or take care of yourself when you’ve spent your whole life taking care of yourself and everyone around you.
So Dad wasn’t coming home for the services, but then he surprised me and told me he was, and I might have cried a little because I am most sincerely petrified at these things and it makes me feel more comfortable if he’s there because he knows all those people and he makes sure to introduce me to people and make me feel part of things and he knows I get overwhelmed and sometimes need to go out for some air or maybe just to walk around or something because people make me claustrophobic and death makes it worse.
“You were going to go anyway, though,” he said.
“Of course I was,” I said. “That’s my family, too. Not just yours. I love them. Even if it gives you panic attacks, you do things you hate for the people you love. I know that.”
“Well, huh. You sure are my girl. Huh,” said Dad. Then he got a little teary but if you ask him he’ll say it was the things blooming in Florida that were triggering his allergies and then he said he had to go.
So tomorrow I am leaving work early and driving about an hour to go to the wake and won’t be home until late. Dad says people don’t wear black anymore because we are not in olden times. “Probably I shouldn’t wear clown-colors, though,” I said. “No, probably that’d be inadvisable,” Dad agreed. We have also discussed whether or not I need to go to the funeral and it has been decided no because I would have to miss almost a whole day of work and since I’m going on vacation next week and missing a lot of work that would ALSO be inadvisable and plus Dad says if you go to the wake people don’t expect you to go to both, it’s just nice that I’m going to the wake at all. I feel like this means people think I’m some sort of terrible caveman with the worst manners who never attends family gatherings and the sight of an Amy in the wild is a rare one, indeed, but he said that’s not what he meant at all.
She’s in a better place. She’s with God now. God called another one of his angels home. She’s in heaven with her sister and her husband. She’s watching over us all now.
Don’t. Please, don’t.
I’m sorry for your loss.
How about, just, I’ll miss her?
I’ll miss her.
Because I will. Because it’s true.
And I can still hear her laughing in my head. She sounds just like my grandmother. I close my eyes and I can’t tell the two of them apart.
(Photos stolen from my beautiful cousin J.’s Facebook page. Thanks, J. The woman you’ve become amazes me. I love you fiercely and would like to beat anyone who hurts you with a two-by-four studded with railroad spikes. Love you to pieces.)