When I was young, my mother would often take offense when someone would ask her, upon seeing me with my mom, “is he your only one?” She was always polite but given that she’d lost two other children, it was one of those questions that hurt, though the person asking had no idea. Simple questions about death, divorce, and our family make-up may seem innocent, but are they really?
There are two other sayings and/or questions – on death and divorce – that, depending on the situation belong on the trash-heap!
1. How old was the person when he or she died?
2. Well, at least you got your gorgeous, wonderful children (out of your marriage that just recently ended in divorce)!
I’ll explain my view on these and the context in which they often come up and are expressed. I believe they are often as foolish and/or insensitive as those that asked my mom if I was her only child.
Perhaps this issue isn’t quite as earth shattering as the economy or conflicts in The Middle East, but I like to tackle issues and problems that I might have a chance to impact. I can dream, can’t I?
Let’s start with the first question most of us ask upon hearing that someone died, especially if we hear it’s a parent or grandparent – How old was he or she?
Again, it seems a perfectly normal and innocent question but when you really think about it the question is not only naïve but diminishes the grief of the recently deceased person’s family. What difference does it really make if the person who died was 80, 90, or even 100? Is the grief less – at that moment?
Yes, sometimes if an elderly relative is living in pain, death is a blessing of sorts. And, yes it is more tragic when a younger person dies too young, especially a parent outliving a child. But, regardless of the age, the loss of a dear loved one is painful and I think a better question would be, “Can I do anything to help?” or “Is there anything that you need?” Maybe even a simple commiseration such as, “I know how much he or she meant to you.”
When my parents died at 89 and 90, I was heartbroken. I was not ready for them to leave our very small family. My father was still in full spirit when cancer finally overtook him at 90 and, yes, my mother’s death was one of those mixed blessings, but I grieved as much as if she had been totally vital at her death.
I believe that the survivors of the deceased simply want our love, our condolences. They really don’t need to hear what a lucky, long life their just departed loved one had.
Question number two always seems to follow hearing the news of a divorce, when there are kids in the family. In an effort to comfort the friend or relative going through the trauma of a divorce, people will often say, “Well, at least you have your beautiful children (out of the marriage).” While most of us will hear that and initially think it’s true, upon reflection that statement is really dumb.
Why couldn’t we have had equally beautiful children with a spouse that didn’t lie, cheat, or otherwise end the marriage where children were involved? Heck, we might have even had more beautiful children with someone brighter, kinder, and better than the louse that just left without a second thought, leaving behind those said “beautiful children.”
Again, perhaps what is needed instead, is what I really needed upon my wife’s leaving – some comfort and help! Heck, the mother of my young boys pretty much packed up and left for good. It’s a long story, but this was during the time I was caring for my ailing parents, when the boys were just 6 and 9, and I had to begin to handle a California divorce and California (Anti) Family Courts. I was devastated.
Yes, I had two terrific children. And, ironically, caring for them during what I call the Dark Days of Divorce helped me stay centered on the bigger picture versus dwell on worries of what lay ahead. But, I’d sure have appreciated a couple of dinner invitations during that first summer. I’d sure have appreciated family friends offering to babysit the boys so I could have a night off.
There’s a saying and a song about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Too many times, I fear we say trite clichéd things without really understanding what the person may be feeling and going through at that moment. Our intentions may be good, but the effect may not be so good.
Perhaps if we really thought a bit more and perhaps offered some meaningful support, rather than just words, we’d be really serving our friends and loved ones better plus doing good.