I got a call from my Mom yesterday afternoon letting me know that their chocolate lab, Rosie, had kind of run away, but not really. my Dad flew to Milwaukee yesterday and left Rose with Mom for the week. Yesterday around 1:00p my Mom let Rose out without a leash to her business. She was out in their unfenced backyard that backs up to a golf course. Rosie started to come back in, per usual, but then saw my Mom standing in the house. Rose then decided that maybe outside was better than inside. Thus started a five hour Mexican standoff that didn't end until I got there around 6:00p.
My Dad got Rosie from a rescue in Phoenix this past spring. She's about 3 years old and has developed a few specific neuroses. Our suspicion is that she was kept to breed puppies in her past life and got away somehow. This has left her with some trust issues, specifically related towards women. She adores my Dad but is very wary of being near or alone with my Mom. If you know my Mom, then you know how absurd this is.
Rosie was refusing to come back in to the house, and every time my Mom would get close to her she would run off. Rosie would go wander the neighborhood for a half hour at a time, then come back to the door, see my Mom, and decide that it was really such a nice day out, be a shame to be cooped up indoors. Every hour or so my Mom would call me with updates, using her best golf commentator voice so as not spook Rosie in to running away for real. When I arrived Rosie saw me and came running, probably to see if I wanted to join the game. I had her on a leash within two minutes and took her back in the house, safe and sound, smelling of hot dogs and garbage. In dog terms, a great way to spend an afternoon.
The trip to Flag is about 2.5 hours from my house, each way. When you have five hours of uninterrupted windshield time your mind can wander. I started thinking about all of the really nice things that people have said and done for my family over the past few months. There are some debts that won't ever be repaid; whether that is thanking Jill and Chuck for letting us use their wonderful home to honor Melissa a few weeks ago, or the simple act of my neighbor giving me a bottle of water while I talked with the EMTs that terrible night.
When you think about all of the good things you inevitably come to the less than great things. There should be a universal list of things not to say to someone in grieving. I am probably as guilty as anyone in saying stupid shit over the years. Unless you've gone through it, it is hard to understand how tone-deaf some of things I've heard are. It's a two way street. There things I've said back to people that I regret, but hey, they started it. So, without further ado, here are some of the things you should avoid when trying to comfort someone after the death of a loved one:
- Don't invite the bereaved to an Amway party. Especially as a means of 'getting out of the house' to meet people, and especially not two days after the death.
- Seriously, this happened. Seriously, don't do it.
- Don't say stuff like - "at least it happened now and not in 'X' years after you'd formed a bond with your son".
- I know you are trying to help, but you aren't helping. At all. First, why the did it have to happen at all? Second, what the fuck... did you actually just say that? Just stop.
- Don't say "this is the worst thing that anyone can ever experience".
- Yeah, I know.
- Also, don't remind me that I should be "devastated".
- Really, that's how I should be?
- If you are a banker and a customer comes in at 3:30p in the afternoon on a Friday with all the paperwork to transfer his wife's bank accounts to his name, don't be a jerk and complain about how you just closed out your register and now you have to open it up again... oh, and "sorry for your loss. Have a good weekend!"
- Yes, this also happened. I don't want to single the bank out. Let's just say it was D. Schools. No that is too specific, let's say Desert S. Thanks for making one of the hardest things I've ever had to do that much worse.
- This one isn't actually that bad, but - don't tell me "I look good".
- Maybe I do look good (maybe I always look good, wink, wink), but it just reminds me that the last time you saw me was the worst time of my life.
- Don't say "God never gives us more than we can handle"
- Maybe this helps some people. I don't know, I'm not interested in finding out. I have never felt like I can handle this, God or otherwise. Whenever I hear this it feels like a bad rationalization for a bunch of bad shit that happened.
- Don't invite me to your thing at the bar because you think I need to go 'have some fun'. This is followed closely by don't invite me to your religious/meditation/spiritual/seance thing
- In all cases I really do appreciate the sentiments, but it's going to be super awkward for both of us when I turn you down.
- Also - the last thing I want to do right now is go to a seance (yes, it happened, I was invited by a couple of people actually). Maybe think first before you ask.
- Don't say "I know how you feel" or "I feel your pain".
- No, you don't. Maybe you think you do, but you don't. Everyone experiences things different and to assume otherwise underestimates us both.
- Don't tell me "really puts things in perspective, doesn't it".
- Yes, it really does. To take a line from 'Spinal Tap': Too Much. There's too much fucking perspective.
So what is the right thing to say or do? Just be a friend. The things that have stuck with me the most are the ones that were most honest. It doesn't get more honest than showing up to say you care with a simple "I'm sorry". You can elaborate if you need to or feel you must, but keep it simple, keep it honest. Be there for the person. Be true to yourself and them. Grand gestures are nice but they aren't necessary. Just think before you speak.
(h/t to Matt for reminding to go back and watch Spinal Tap.)