How Society Deals with Death
Perhaps the biggest taboo topic alongside money and sex is “death.” In many ways the fear of death is at the root of the mental aspect of the anxiety that so many people experience.
The way our large society addresses the death of famous people involves lots of coverage, speculation and investigation. Then the inevitable statements from other famous people demonstrating their grief and on some level speaking for us both effectively and ineffectively.
Another way we address it is through religion and ritual. Those grieving a loss are encouraged to take comfort to trust that “everything happens for a reason.” Sometimes after the funeral or memorial…people are expected to be okay and to move on.
On a more personal level we seek to comfort one another…but mostly people are uncomfortable about death…as if the very mention of it…invites death into your inner circle.
As if we can avoid death by not discussing it.
A Recent Personal Snapshot
In recent weeks I’ve experienced, witnessed or shared in three very different types of loss as it relates to my relationship to the person who died as well as to those who are grieving the loss.
- The public and very shared loss of music legend Prince Rogers Nelson
- The death of a friend’s father. A person who was my classmate in high school but who I have mostly connected with through Facebook.
- The death of one of my brother’s closest friends (his college roommate).
They all provoked profound feelings in me for different reasons.
When I was a little girl, I had one of those portable record players that you can carry with you…it sat inside of a case with a lid that closed and could be carried around. I used to listen to a Strawberry Shortcake record with an image of Strawberry Shortcake and all of her friends imprinted on the record. By the age of 10 I had somehow transitioned from that record to New Edition (A Jackson Five-esque boy band)….and then to – you guessed it – Prince!
Of course, due to the adult content in his lyrics at that time, I really had little to no idea about what these songs were intimating. All I knew was that I loved the emotion, the guitar, the voice. I continued to listen to his older music up until present time, as if it came out yesterday.
I’m not one of those people who was every sexually attracted to Prince. I loved his lyricism, his talent, his musicianship and you have heard this before – his genius.
When David Bowie died in January 2016, I literally had the thought “this is sad…the passing of a artistic legend…at least Prince will be with us for a very long time!”
So when he died I thought it was a cruel hoax. I refused to let in the pain of this loss…the loss of this person who I have never met but whose music touched my heart. A comfort came from not being alone in my grief. So many other people were mourning and sharing publicly. So it gave my feelings a place to be…out in the open…I didn’t feel tempted to chastise myself regarding my reaction to the death of a “celebrity.”
The Death of a Father
The second death was that of a friend’s father. She is a former school mate; she is also a colleague; and now a friend. Although we only got reacquainted online via Facebook, I relate to her in so many ways and there is a friendship there with real heart.
She had been sharing about her father’s health decline. He was deathly ill and battled back successfully for a few months. Even getting to a place where it looked like he would survive for quite a while longer. In other words, he seemed to be out of the woods. It was a celebration!
One morning I was thinking about how happy I was for her that her father had rallied and that she had more time with him. I recalled my father dying from cancer and how much I wanted more time, more time to talk, to visit, to wrap my arms around him. She was getting that and I was very grateful to know that it was happening for her.
Later that day she shared that her father died. My heart sank. I reached out to her to offer my condolences to let her know that she was literally in my thoughts. Like me, she is generally upbeat and was doing the best she could to be in an accepting space around her father’s death.
I know that feeling…a little over 2 years ago I was in the same place that she was… trying to make arrangements for my father’s services; comforting my mother; and needing support from others – emotionally, spiritually, mentally and financially (after all, death is expensive).
Even though we all (if the order of things is followed) will deal with the death(s) of our parents, there is something very lonely about it. Many people will come around and many people will go away…naturally back to their lives. They are not doing anything wrong by leaving…they are simply on to the next thing. While we/she in this case have to begin life anew, altered by a new world where the physical form of her “father” is no longer present.
My Brother’s Best Friend
The third loss came today as I write this blog post. My twin brother’s college roommate and good friend died a few days short of turning 42 years old.
While I had only met Clarence a few times. He was beloved by all of his friends and I had heard so many stories about him…that I felt as if I knew him as my own friend.
Today my brother told me a new story about Clarence. One time they were at a conference for their industry (computer animation and special effects). My brother was trying to usher Clarence off of the phone so they could head down to the convention floor.
The truth is my brother can be super impatient when it comes to leaving to get somewhere on time (or perhaps I’m always making him late). So he is rushing Clarence and finally asked him…“Who’s on the phone?” Clarence says “Oh yeah, that was the person from the front desk.” Clarence had gotten into full on conversation with the person who had made his wake up call! (This was long before the automated wake up calls became the norm.)
Apparently, Clarence never knew a stranger; he was known for being very mild mannered; easy going and always seeing the best in people. My brother shared that it was practically “a treat” to see Clarence get upset because not much ever got to him.
My pain around Clarence’s death is the pain that my brother is experiencing…the disbelief that comes with losing a contemporary. The death of someone whose life in many ways seems incomplete. The death of someone whose life parallels your own.
My pain is the pain you feel when someone you love is hurting and there are no words to fix it…but then again there are rarely any words to fix the pain of grief…there are small comforts…but no fixing.
The Lights Transform
My friend’s loss and my brother’s loss are both personal…two bright lights who will be mourned by those closest to them.
While Prince’s death is a global event…cities around the world lighting buildings and monuments in purple. No death any more or less important than others…some very private and others very public.
As service providers we must be present with the topics and feelings surrounding death. We have to confront our own grief…sit with it….breathe through it and be present with others.
As fellow travelers, as human beings, we must keep in mind that what many people need…. is to not be alone in their grief. Even if you don’t know what to say…be present.
Asking them what they need may not be enough…sometimes you just have to show up!
Copyright © 2016 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.
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