Saying Goodbye Properly

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

A documentary on TVO, about twins and the impact upon the survivor of losing one’s ‘other half’, made clear how powerful a message can be when the absence of something is the focus.  By looking at the size of the loss when one of two is taken, the depth and degree of the attachment is evident.

One of the more affecting stories for me was that of a child whose brother died when they were still quite young (five or six, I believe).  The adults’ way of dealing with this was to not talk about it, and to avoid mentioning the loss to the surviving twin.  He describes his confusion and ultimate depression as he tried learning to live without the constant reference point that his brother represented.  If he wasn’t a twin, what was he?  There was no automatic shift in identify, to being a ‘single’.  He thinks that if there had been some acknowledgement of the significance of this change, this start of a different life, he could have made the transition with more competence and confidence.

Absence of Communal Acknowledgement

For a long time, I have thought that the absence of communal acknowledgement of an individual’s significant life events can increase emotional isolation.  Social avoidance of what really matters to another can eat away at one’s sense of belonging in the world.  If no one seems to be paying attention to something that has rocked one to the core, or that initiates a big change in direction and emotional environment, a chance is missed to share that blow or that new journey.

Recognizing – together – that something is important gives our loved ones and ourselves a comfort that we may need to hold in our hearts when lonely and painful moments arise – as they will when change is sizable.

We Do Celebrate – in Excess?

We seem to understand funerals, although many now insist they don’t want any traditional form of goodbye ritual.  But there remains a cultural recognition of the need for an opportunity to pay our respects to the dead and to the family.

Many of the remaining rituals of communal acknowledgement – weddings and birthday parties – become hugely expensive and overdone.  Is it because there are so few other meaningful social events?

Feast days, like Christmas and Halloween, are adopted as personal forms of expression (not to mention Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s, and Easter).  Maybe they are indulged in because they occur when the days are still short and we’re all fighting winter blues?

Yet, many important personal passages remain ignored.

What would I have us attend to?

I’m suggesting any loss of life, not subject to the practice of a funeral, needs recognition.  How come a born baby, lost, can be mourned, but not an unborn?

I had four miscarriages (one very successful pregnancy).  Family and friends, one by one, conveyed kindness and sympathy.  The little lost being was, however, never acknowledged, and the amount of attachment I had already developed after a few months of carrying her or him could somehow never be spoken of.  Move on and hope – best therapy.

But was it?  I now wish that I had asked my good friends to come over and spend an hour acknowledging each lost unformed life, in silence and words, in some kind of memorial to the brief time that being shared my body.  That now seems normal and reasonable.  But is it?

What Kind of Recognition am I Talking About?

NOT another greeting card!

Rather, something simple, suited to the impacted person.  For me, I would have those dear to me gather, perhaps around a source of light (a candle or fire) or a sign of life (a flower or tree branch) – actual or in imagination – and use words, maybe music, and love to enfold me and my lost treasure.  I would hope any peace that ensues to comfort those who cared about me.

Okay, I’ve lost half of you right there.  Touchy feely, emotional, you’d feel foolish.  Whoever feels that way could stand back.  Those choosing to immerse in the gathering will be those who have some need for connection and a sharing of love.

I convinced that it’s better to acknowledge a loss than to brush it off.  And people together have more power than myself alone to convey what really matters between us.

Not All ‘Acknowledgement Events” Need be Soulful!

Ten years ago, a wise mother named Rita had a pre-graduation party for a circle of high-school friends  – including our girl – who had been together for the past six years and who were now heading out to all different cities to start their independent lives.  She included all us parents, who had over time come to quite enjoy each other’s company.  We sat in the sun and talked a little about some of the notable school events and watched our young ones chat and cavort (with 17-year-old dignity) and those so inclined were able to feel suitably nostalgic for the stresses and strains and joys of loving these kids.  There would be few opportunities to meet again in future years and it was excellent to have this simple event of acknowledging how good it had been.

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6 Comments

Filed under A Bigger Circle, Rosemary's entries, Uncategorized

6 responses to “Saying Goodbye Properly

  1. Dr. Stan Eaman

    You have hit the nail on the head. When the Buddha’s attendant asked the Buddha if good friends were half of the holy life he replied ” not so Ananda, good friends are all the holy life”. We need each other. We are social beings and we thrive when we are members of caring communities.

    In my new retirement phase I am volunteering at our local hospice. The befievment councilor, a lovely woman has been working alone and requested that I meet with her so that she has someone to share the cases with and perhaps make the load a little easier.

    We live in a society which places great stock in trying to grab on to the good and get rid of the bad. Unfortnately many of us don’t have the skills to manage painful feelings ( especially men) so they often bury them or turn to things like drugs, alcohol or work to push them away rather than seeing them as a normal part of what we all have to deal with all through our life.

    Stan

  2. Karen Thorpe

    Retirement and moving have been events like the one you mentioned – somehow deeply significant and something to be acknowledged. like a graduation. And yes, there was a party – a wonderful party……. and then the loss. I have been truly blessed to be part of a community where the celebration of the eucharist every week somehow raises the ordinary events of my life into a place so holy and so ordinary that I am able to have the significance of my life in all of it’s changes sadness, laughter,hope – celebrated through this ordinary and extraordinary event. I can never quite believe that this shared meal brings the beauty of heaven to me where I stand – a rather confused retiree looking at the last decades of my life.

  3. Paragraph two touched the sore spot.And paragraph three makes a lot of sense. I wondered when the phrase ‘perfect wedding’ came from I didn’t plan a perfect wedding. Just a suitable and affordable one. The food was great. People seemed to have fun. But I am not worried if they didn’t.
    Having come from a family that was large and didn’t include ‘friends’, I have and still have little idea of how to go about getting them. I am learning (I hope) from experts. Firstly from YSM, some now from another volunteer committee. One that is introducing me to extroverts, who are so much easier to get to know than we introverts.
    I came to Y.S.M. because of grief. Grief that had left me breathless and literally lying on the floor sobbing til I fell asleep only to wake and do so again. The death of my 28 year old son, Aaron.
    I pause to weep.
    People, ‘friends?’, disappeared faster than a Christmas pay check. And I have never had a proper (or even improper) acknowledgement of his death and burial. Never. In all of those 12 years. Nadda!
    You have made me think that now that I have developed a group of people that I dare think of as friends. I should have such a function. Thanks.
    We will see who comes shall we?
    Retirement winded me for a few months. It was not the loss of a job, I hadn’t had one for years. But it was the age thing. Now I am over it and feel much better. Senior ism has it’s uses. Specially when you have to use a cane anyway (snigger snigger behind hand). Allowances are made. Good.
    I have to say I think I handle painful feelings well and those of others as long as I understand the source. Mine as well as theirs. Tears don’t faze me, unless I am out of kleenex. I love the prayer around the candle. I shouldn’t think it would matter whether one was religious or not. I’m not and it works for me.
    Thanks for the idea. I will talk to my new and emerging friends and some of my lovely Y.S.M. friends and see what can be done. Lord knows I need to let go. Maybe the acknowledgement and some tears will led inevitably (?) to relief and laughter. Cause I love laughter.
    Cheers Rosie.
    Diana

  4. Piki

    I’d not feel foolish to sit with candles or music with you and I wish I’d been there for you when you lost your babies. I like the Jewish ritual of the 24-hour candle for a family or friend’s loss.

    When our oldest son committed suicide two years ago, I experienced so directly the unspoken loss you talk about. One friend only I could talk to…she too had lost a child to suicide. No one knows what to say and so they say nothing after the first ‘I’m so sorry’. And we light a 24-hour candle for our lost child each year. A cyber friend, who lives in Israel, sent me the first candle and arranged to have a prayer said for our son in her synagogue. He would have been so excited and thrilled by this.

    I hope the ‘walk’ went well for you.

  5. Juanita Rathbun

    I agree that there should be some recognition or support for anyone who experiences any kind of a substantial “loss” The current trend to do away with any funeral or memorial services is not a healthy situation. People suffering the loss, the family and friends need a special time and a special place in which to share the loss with others. These ceremonies are not needed for the departed one, but for the ones left behind. They need the love and support of others during those initial few days or weeks following their loss.

  6. The loss of a child, pre or post delivery, is the worst thing a parent can feel. But, the loss of a child through violence, either theirs to themselves or by others is unspeakable.
    I went silent for 10 years after my sister violent death.
    It took my son’s suicide to open me up again.
    Who knew.
    D

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