This is a followup to today’s earlier post. My spouse and I went by, our friends were alone, we hugged them a lot and sat with them for an hour while they cried and talked. I’m glad I went. The younger generation is asking me what they should do. I thought you’d be interested, as a lot of older people don’t know either. Many of you have had to be on the receiving end of this, so you may want to tweak the advice I gave the kids. Here’s what I wrote (edited to be generic): You don’t have to do a lot. Showing up is 90%. They are going to feel terrible no matter what, but they will remember that other people cared enough to show up. You don’t need to — it isn’t helpful to — try to say anything to make it better. You can’t. You just say how sorry you are and listen to them and, in a low key way, tell stories you remember about the good times you had with them. They are likely to cry and this is normal. It’s OK to remember funny and happy things, it is OK to laugh. It is OK to cry. Offer to leave every 15 minutes or so. If there is food out, it is ok to eat it. (People bring LOTS of food to the houses where there has been a death.) These things are not done on appointments. The hardest thing is know whether to call ahead. Talking on the phone is really hard when you are grieving (your voice chokes up) and calling someone to say how sorry you are is not good unless you are a really close relative or friend and you are manifestly too far away to get there. So you just kind of go over, and if it turns out to be a bad time, you come back a different time. Or, if they have someone to handle the phone, you talk to that person to find out if it would be a good time to come over. Or maybe call just to ask whether it is ok to come over.
The intermingling of great joy and great sorrow goes on. My daughter told us ten days ago that she and her boyfriend plan to marry soon — this is a joy. Then she became unexpectedly unemployed and she had to focus on that, diverting attention from wedding plans. And there are various hassles with getting my son and his girlfriend moved into an apartment. The roller coaster of life. I was going to post about that when I had a chance.
But now the shock. Dan, a childhood friend of my son was killed yesterday in an auto crash. There was a five-year period when six boys gamed together every Friday night. For the first few years, the gaming was hosted by the Dan’s parents, and then later it moved to our house. Dan drifted away from the group about the time they graduated high school, and the other boys have not seen him much in recent years. My spouse and I remain friends with his parents through church and have seen Dan playing piano at church (he was a superb musician) and at his graduation party in May. It is hard to think of much else. Besides my son, I’m in communication with some of the other boys, including some who live elsewhere but happen to be planning to be in town this weekend. And church folks are exchanging messages about how to help out and funeral planning. I’ll be going over the parents’ house soon, food in hand. I don’t know whether they will want me to hang around for comfort, or leave them in the hands of people closer to them.
I’m not sure but I think a man died within six feet of me yesterday. This was on a jet that was just about ready to close its doors for departure in O’Hare. They had not given up on him when they carried him out, but everyone involved was treating it as fatal. I noticed the couple while waiting to board. They stood out amid the jeans and shorts because they were very dressed up, he in a suit and tie and she in a dress. They were middle-aged and looked vaguely Southeast Asian and spoke with some accent. They sat one row behind me, across the aisle; I was on the aisle seat. We were all seated, they were preparing to close the door. The man one row back and on the other side started making strange coughing/wheezing sounds. I looked back and saw him looking ill, a strange kind of gasping but I did not recognize it as anything dangerously bad. (Later, I heard a flight attendant describe the coughing symptoms and say it sounded like a typical heart attack, while my seat mate said he thought it was more like congestive heart failure.) Then his wife started calling for help. The flight attendant came and she asked for a doctor. A man two aisles up stood up to help. There was some more talk and I heard someone say, “We need more help.” More people came and then an announcement over the PA asking for doctors. I heard someone say that the first volunteer was a psychiatrist. Someone stood up and said she was a nurse, then several more middle-aged men came back from first class. Continue reading “life and death”