Taking Death to Parties – Mentioning Loved Ones Who’ve Died
Okay, I will keep this grief-related blog short – partly because people’s attention spans this time of year are remarkably short (and I speak from experience on this) but mostly because the message I have to communicate (also learned from experience, unfortunately) is REALLY important.
If you have recently lost a loved one and this is your first Christmas without that person:
Be warned: the people who you are spending the holidays with may not realize the importance of mentioning your loved one. Instead, they may think that by not mentioning him or her, this will be better because they don’t want to ‘hurt you’ or ‘make you cry.’ Now, this may be A-Okay with you.
But if it isn’t and you discover, to your growing disbelief, that everyone is politely avoiding the elephant in the living room – the fact that you have recently lost a significant person (or pet) in your life – you have four choices:
1. You say nothing and internalize the hurt and anger (not recommended).
2. You say to someone that not mentioning your loved one really hurts.
3. You bring up a memory of the person yourself and share it.
4. You leave – either in agonized silence or after a spectacular hissy-fit (highly recommended – please see below).
If you are hosting a party or family function and one of your guests has recently experienced the loss of a loved one:
Here’s an excerpt from my book, A Widow’s Awakening, that you might find of use (the following scene took place 2 months after the sudden death of my 32-year old husband):
“HE’S GONE!” I scream, “BUT HE’S NOT FORGOTTEN!”
Then I run out of my cousin’s front door, leaving behind a house full of family trying to celebrate my mother’s seventy-fifth birthday. However, since there’s a snowstorm on this particular evening in early December, I have to stop at the front door, after my embarrassing outburst, to put on my jacket, mittens and boots. Only then do I charge down the icy front walkway, stomping as angrily as possible in my new ridiculously high-heeled boots. I climb into my car, slam the door and slowly inch my way home on icy roads.
“They didn’t toast Sam!” I blubber into the phone from my living room.
“Adri?” says Dawson, on the other end of the line. “What’s wrong?”
“I was (sob) at my Mom’s birthday and my family didn’t even include him (sob) in the toast before dinner. I just can’t believe them!”
“Do you want me to come over?”
A few minutes later the doorbell rings. But it’s not Dawson; it’s Dale’s wife.
“So they sent you, huh?” I say.
“I’m pretty pissed off.”
“Oh, we gathered that.”
“I can’t believe my own family. Not one person mentioned Sam the whole night – not even at a goddamn toast to my mother.“
My sister-in-law winces. “Everybody feels just terrible about that but I think we all figured we’d try and give you a break from the hurt.”
“Hah!” I give a shrill laugh. “Well that certainly didn’t work.”
“You’re right. We screwed up and I’m sorry.”
“Mentioning Sam’s name and talking about him,” I say, “is really important to me because if we don’t, he’ll be forgotten.”
“You do know, Adri, that at that dinner table tonight, Sam was on every single one of our minds?”
I shrug. “If no one says anything, how would I?”
The doorbell rings. I let Dawson in.
“Well,” she says to him. “We messed up.”
“It happens,” he replies. “It’s hard to know what to say sometimes.”
“Here’s a tip then,” I say. “Not mentioning Sam is gonna bury him a hell of a lot faster than the dirt they threw on his grave.”
I get the double-goldfish (both mouths drop open). Is the nice-widow façade finally crumbling?
And there you have it. If you are honest and open with the people who honestly love and support you, then most people will try and do better – if they know better. Unfortunately, it’s usually up to the person grieving the recent loss of a loved one who gets stuck bringing death to the party. But even though loss and grief are facts of life; they can be significantly alleviated when shared memories – instead of avoidance – are put on the table.
Because trust me, an elephant in the living room should not be ignored.
Maryanne Pope is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of theJohn Petropoulos Memorial Fund. She is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the executive producer of the documentary, Whatever Floats Your Boat…Perspectives on Motherhood. If you would like to receive her weekly blog, please sign up here.