Dear Moomie and Brian,
Soooo… I follow a Facebook page called “Confessions of a Funeral Director.” Today he shared a great post that read:
Can we please stop using the phrase (and it’s numerous variations) “heaven needed a new angel?”
We can find better ways to express our grief and condolences than by using a cliche that overlooks pain and the reality of loss in the here and now. God has plenty of angels and I really doubt he needs another, especially when it has caused the bereaved so much pain and suffering. Death is hard, grief is tough and we need to uses phrases that acknowledge that difficulty instead of diminish it.
I really connected with that so much. I should have just kept scrolling on by (after giving the post the “thumbs up”) but I did what I absolutely should have known better than to do– I clicked on the comments. And then proceeded to read them.
There was a note from a woman who had said she was upset at repeatedly hearing “Well, this was God’s plan” at the visitation for her 19 year-old nephew who died by suicide. In response to that, a self-proclaimed “devout Catholic” offered this gem:
“Give me the proper phrase. I’m sure it wouldn’t do to meaningfully approach a parent of a victim of suicide with, ‘Oh my… I’m so sorry for your failure.‘ Just EXACTLY what would you like to hear???”
I’ve discussed this before but it just angers me so much. I mean, as a non-believer it didn’t offend me one bit when people said, “I’m praying for you” or “I lit a candle for you at church on Sunday.” Nothing about that was hurtful though we both knew full well that I do not share their beliefs. I was very aware that the message behind their words was one of love and genuine caring. So I can totally respect that and I appropriately responded with “thank you.” But to tell someone who has just lost a loved one that they are “in a better place” or “God needed him more” is a bit too far for my own comfort. Why is it so difficult to just say, “I’m sorry for your loss?” Or simply just be there to listen? Or just offer a warm hug in silence?
In that same Facebook thread, while it was chock full of people who feel the exact same way that I do, there were a number of people chiming in to say, “lighten up” or “if you’re an atheist you just need to shut up” or “what is wrong with the world that it is so full of ‘politically correct’ overload nowadays? I’m going to say whatever I want, you can’t take my Jesus away from me!” I just don’t see it that way. Wanting someone to be respectful of where I’m at doesn’t equate to “taking away their Jesus.”
If I know that someone who is of faith is struggling with the loss of a loved one, I will willingly offer up an “I’m praying for you” to them. My prayer might not be the same as their prayer, but I know it is meaningful to them just the same. I don’t see anything wrong with meeting the other person where they are at without imposing our own beliefs onto theirs. To me, it’s about respect. And honestly, telling me that it was “God’s will” for my brother die by suicide at 35 wasn’t OK. Nothing about him being dead was OK. It wasn’t then and it isn’t now. And regardless of what I believe, I would never impose my views on someone at such a delicate time such as grieving the loss of a loved one.
I wasn’t surprised but I was bothered to see the number of hurtful comments being slung at one another; from non-believers to Christians and vice versa. I don’t see how someone who claims to be a “child of God” could say to someone grieving the loss of their child by suicide, “I’m sorry you failed at being a parent.” It’s ignorant. It’s cruel. It’s inexcusable. And from what I know about the bible, it isn’t very Christ-like, either.
I have a friend who is an atheist. She had been at a party and had spent a bit of time having a nice conversation with a woman there. After a bit, this woman asked her where she attended church. My friend told her that she didn’t attend church and she was actually an atheist. To which the woman replied, “Oh my! Really??? But you… you seemed so nice!!” It upsets me when people seem to equate a moral compass with religion. You don’t need a higher power to be a good human. I’m a kind person. I smile at strangers. I hold the door open for people. I volunteer. And today, when using the last of the toilet paper in the bathroom stall at work, i went to get a new roll out of the supply closet so the next person wouldn’t be caught stranded on the toilet with no paper. Because that’s how I roll. (Get it? Roll? Toilet paper?? OK… moving on.) I just thought it might be nice to save the next person the discomfort. I try to treat others as I’d like to be treated. I get that from you, Moooomie. You were one of the most caring people I’ve ever known. It is such a blessing to hear people tell me how much I remind them of you. And Brian, she passed that kindness on to you, too. I still hear from people who knew you that say how sweet of a person you were.
Gosh, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reached for my phone to call you, Momma. Today I took myself to lunch and sat there and cried alone over my chicken fajitas and then, with time in my lunch break to spare, I drove back to the office and sat in my car in the parking lot and cried some more. After I’d gathered myself together a bit a few co-workers invited me to walk down the road with them to watch President Obama’s motorcade go by. It was a really cool experience and I immediately thought of how I should call you to tell you I just totally waved at the president! Not long after that thought crossed my mind, I found a penny. Then just a few moments later I looked at the grass and spotted some dandelions growing there. I was immediately reminded of our childhood; Brian and I would ride our bikes to the neighborhood grocery store with a bag full of pennies to buy some candy and we’d usually come back with little handfuls of violets and dandelions we had picked for you on the way. You always smiled, hugged and thanked us and put them in a little vase in the window behind the kitchen sink to show them off. They might have just been weeds but they were more than that to us and you made us feel as though we had just given you the entire world. Maybe the penny and that memory on my walk today was you both letting me know that you actually were already sharing that moment with me. I really hope so.
Oh, and Moooomie! I thought of you at the dentist last week; I was there to get impressions done for my final implant. (Can you believe it? It will be a whole year by the time I’m all finished as the tooth came out last April!) Anyway… my dentist had used that plastic mouth-spreader to take a good picture of my teeth to send to the lab and I nearly had tears rolling down my face when she showed me the picture. It was awful. And hideous. And AWESOME. It made me immediately think how that is exactly the kind of picture I would have sent straight to you. In fact, remember that time when we were talking on the phone when I was at my lunch break at Carlson and I was telling you how yummy my food was? You asked me what I was eating and I told you to hold on… that I’d send you a picture of it so you could see. You surely were expecting to get a picture of a bowl of soup, or a slice of pizza or a sandwich. But instead, I had taken a huge bite of my casserole, opened my mouth wide and snapped a picture of the contents of my mouth mid-bite… and I sent it to you. You laughed so. hard. I loved your laugh… and I adored making you laugh like that. Brian and Moooomie, you both had such infectious laughs and I dearly miss hearing them both.
I’m really doing my best to stay grounded here without you both. Some days I sort of feel like a plant that has been re-potted though carelessly…. so the roots aren’t really taking hold again, you know? You both leaving me has left me feeling disconnected from the world in a way that admittedly concerns me and can’t quite be put into words. But please know that I’m doing the very best that I can. I have amazing friends who love me and have been so supportive. I’m still going to therapy 3-4 times a month which has been helpful. And, most importantly, I’ve made breaks from relationships that were not serving me well. Taking care of myself in that way has become more important to me and I’ve come to realize that sometimes connections need to be severed when it comes to people with whom I have an unhealthy relationship. It’s important for my own self-care and growth and, quite honestly, my survival.
Well, I guess that’s it for now. I’ll leave you with the words of Grand-MaMa Mary:
“I love you dearly.”