My grandma died at 97 and I was heartbroken. It was partially because she helped raise me and I adored her, but it was also unexpected.
“Unexpected?” you might say, and some people did. But she didn’t die at an age that was expected of her generation. She had outlived so many peers and younger relatives, I was sure she would live to be 100.
What difference should it make how old someone is when they die? Shouldn’t we extend to the bereaved the same sympathy and level of support, no matter how old or young the deceased?
In retrospect, I didn’t get much sympathy when my grandma died. One colleague said upon hearing of her death and her age, “Didn’t you expect her to die Robbie?”
Just because someone has lived a long life, does that mean the loss is any less painful? No matter how old someone is when they die, the bereaved deserve the same consideration you would extend to anyone who has lost a loved one. Age doesn’t diminish the pain of loss and the mourning process is still the same.
Photo courtesy of author
My daughter inherited my mother’s strand of pearls. They were housed in a worn silk case and I replaced it with one of mine, more worthy of the cherished heirloom. I was then faced with the dilemma; what to do with the silk case that my mother’s hands touched every time she wore her beloved pearls?
Mourning my mother’s death, I could not part with the case and stored it in my handbag. For months I felt a sense of warmth every time my fingers came in contact with the case. Eventually I changed handbags and removed the case, now all but forgotten.
Last month I was cleaning out storage boxes and came across two family heirlooms. While removing them from the box I unearthed the worn silk case. I thought, so that’s where I put it. Obviously I could not part with it over the past fifteen years, but what do I do with it now?
We are all faced with these dilemmas. Not everything that belonged to a deceased loved one is a cherished heirloom. But, the items that our loved ones frequently used become the vivid reminders of who they were and what we lost and many are hard to discard. One friend kept a coat and another a wallet; others wore sweaters, tee shirts, and even a bathrobe. We wear and use them to sustain the connection or to feel them close one more time. At some point, they become even more faded, worn, and tattered, and then what do we do?
My mother gave my family a gift; she donated and organized the remainder of her belongings and left a meticulous estate. I want to do the same so I have begun to have periodic meetings with my daughters. I feel it is a gift to them if we can sort through possessions while I’m still able. I share the story behind specific items and they let me know if they would like it now, later, or never. I can then either pass it to them, someone else, or donate.
It brings me pleasure to see others use treasured objects and I feel comfortable in a more tidy home. Cleaning a closet, drawer, or storage box can be a positive way to end a year and start a new one.
Image: Flickr Creative Commons/Christina Ann VanMeter
Copyright Legacy.com Used with permission
We live in a multicultural age where many of us have family members from different faiths and nationalities. And yet when someone in our social circle or community dies and they’re from a different culture or faith, we often seem at a loss for what’s appropriate to do. If we ignore the religious and cultural rituals of the bereaved, we run the risk that our thoughtful gesture might cause confusion rather than solace.
For example, a friend was perplexed after his brother died. One of the many cards he received was a Mass card and it came from his brother’s colleague. My friend is Jewish and he didn’t know what a Mass card was and had no idea who to ask.
Unless you are Catholic, you may not know what a Mass card is either. Members of the Catholic faith send Mass cards to let a bereaved family member know their loved one will be remembered and prayed for at a Catholic Mass. Mass cards can be purchased at a local parish but they are sometimes available by phone or online. The sender usually arranges for a date and time for a Mass to be said for the bereaved. While you don’t have to be Catholic for a Mass to be said for you, it is important to think how the bereaved recipient will feel getting a religious offering that is not of their faith. Or, like my friend, have no idea what the sympathy gesture represents.
I can remember how confused I was when attending my first visitation since my faith does not hold visitations nor do we have an open casket. The visitation was for a neighbor and I stood in line at the funeral home with another neighbor. I was able to ask what was expected and she quickly filled me in. When I approached the bereaved spouse, I took my cues. She was receiving visitors with her brother and she introduced me. I knew to express my condolences to them both and acknowledge the open casket to their left. After greeting a few other neighbors, I comfortably left the visitation.
While discussing this topic with another friend, she confided that her husband’s office made a mistake when a Jewish colleague’s spouse died. Not knowing Jewish mourning customs, the office sent flowers. It wasn’t until later that they learned that you do not send flowers when someone of the Jewish faith dies. Those who practice Judaism believe that flowers are for the living. It is more appropriate to honor the deceased by making a donation in their memory.
More information on religious and cultural differences related to funeral and mourning customs can be found in How to Say It® When You Don’t Know What to Say: Illness & Death available at www.wordsthatcomfort.com and in Amazon’s Kindle store.
Images via Wikimedia Commons, Cott 12
Copyright Legacy.com Used with permission
It’s been over five decades since my father died; so long that the searing pain following his death is a distant memory. I’ve lived my life without him and I long ago left behind any yearning for the experiences I’ve missed.
That’s not to say there is no sadness in his death, but I have accepted it and moved on. And yet the past can come back in surprising ways.
My spouse and I have a tradition for sharing Memorial Day weekend. Our youngest daughter always spends the weekend at the beach with a lifelong friend’s family and we enjoy a quiet house. I mark the holiday by buying a poppy and wearing it proudly.
This year, not only was the house empty, but I felt empty too. It wasn’t until Monday that I began to reminisce about the Memorial Days of my youth. My dad, a World War II veteran, was very involved with the local American Legion post. On Memorial Days he drove World War I veterans in the annual town parade and I got to ride in the back seat. Afterwards, he took me and my siblings to a cookout at the American Legion post. I still remember the hot dogs and hamburgers and playing softball in the back. There is a wonderful photo that I cherish of my father with me and two siblings, his arms stretched around us.
It was in the retelling of this family tale that I identified the tug of sadness I was feeling. It wasn’t that I wanted to spend the holiday participating in a Memorial Day parade or attending a barbecue; it was the longing for those precious and few days I had with my amazing dad. I felt once more the reality of his absence and all that I missed; a lifetime without my daddy.
Though the years pass. we still miss our loved ones. They never really leave us as we hold them tightly in our hearts. Our memories can bring joy and they can make us sad. Time heals, but we don’t forget.
Photo: courtesy of author
copyright www.legacy.com. Used with permission.
Robbie’s goal is to help her readers communicate effectively when their loved ones, neighbors, colleagues, and community members face difficult times.
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