What is the appropriate amount of grieving?
When I first heard the news, I was more shocked than anything. I was intellectually sad, but emotionally I was mostly numb. At some point I realized that everyone other than me seemed to be distraught and while my numbness had seemed to wear off, I wasn't feeling particularly sad. What does it mean that I am not feeling like everyone else? Is there something wrong with me? Did I not love my mother? We certainly had our issues, but I cared for her. Why the disparity?
I talked to my wife about this, and she said I was being silly. I loved my mother, and there is nothing wrong with me. Judging your emotions is a bad idea, and not everyone is on the same schedule. She was right, I cut myself a little slack, and the emotions came. Especially during the actual funeral. Holy shit was that brutal. It was actually good though in a way. It was exhausting, but it was a way to get the emotions out around plenty of people for support. And it was great to share stories with people.
Now that I've returned to my regular life for about a week, things are mostly back to normal. My everyday life is pretty far removed from my parents, so the whole episode is rarely in the forefront of my mind. I do randomly have an impulse (such as "my mom would love this, I should call her about it") which is always a bit of a bummer.
What do you say to someone who is grieving?
When I got past the shock and disbelief of losing my mother, my concern went right to my dad who just lost his wife of roughly 40 years. My dad much used my mom for motivation for pretty everything he did. He loved tinkering around the house and in the yard, but even when he was just screwing around with his own little hobbies, he always had an eye out for things that my mom would like. Losing her would be absolutely devastating for him. What the hell do I say to my dad in this situation? How can I make things better?
Of course, I was on the other side of this a lot in the following week. My friends and family were searching for things to say to me to, many of them said things like "I just don't know what to say" just as I had to my father. Here's the thing, there is nothing to say. Nothing will fix things, no words will really make things better. However, the simple fact that people want to help and are searching for things to say is nice. A simple "I'm sorry for your loss" is good. Many people also offered to help in any way they could. "If you need someone to talk to please don't hesitate to call me", that's also nice, and I did take a few people up on that as did my dad. Another thing that a lot of people did that was really nice was to drop by food and drink. It's nice to not have to worry about grocery shopping during all of the craziness, and it also gives people an excuse to drop in and just hang out with us for a few minutes.
She's with God now
There is one thing that I heard a lot, in many variations from many different people "God must need her in heaven". Many atheists take offense to these statements but I obviously didn't as very few people in my family know I'm an atheist. But I'm not sure it would bother me even if they did, everyone is trying to cope. And as I said, it is hard to know what to say, in fact at the beginning of the trip I found myself wishing that I could have said such a thing to my father. I never did of course, but it seemed like it would have been nice.
But would it really? As I was watching so many people say these types of things, I was wondering if such words really help, and I don't think it did. Nobody seemed to be comforted by these words any more than they are comforted by anything else. People nodded and said "thank you" as they would have to "I'm sorry for your loss", but it doesn't make things better.
One angle I see a lot of atheists take with this type of thing is to submit it as evidence that they don't really believe what they are saying. It's not terribly uncommon to hear "If they really thought she was in heaven they'd be happy about her dying." I've nodded along to this before without thinking about it too hard in the past, but now I'm not so sure. Consider this analogy.
Suppose you were a really poor person in a really poor country. You have a wife and family that you love and your life is good given the conditions, even though you long for the better life. Suddenly some rich person swoops down to your village and says they will take one of your loved ones to live in a rich country in a mansion. They will be living the good life. You can come too, but you have to wait 5 years.In this situation, you are going to be happy for them, but you are still going to be sad they are gone. You will look forward to the reunion and being able to join them in the good life, but nevertheless, you will be sad for the time you have to spend apart. Furthermore, just observing my extended family, they really believe what they are saying.
Anyway. I should get back to a somewhat normal posting schedule starting next week.