These past couple of weeks have served as a reminder of why I don’t attend large family functions. Regardless of how close families claim to be, we all have a unique ability to get under each other’s skin. Mix in a little death and devastation, and carnage ensues.
One theory offered up to explain this phenomenon is that we don’t know how to grieve. And, in an attempt to figure these things out, we engage in random, dysfunctional behavior. Acting out, as it were. I recall when my father died, some very bizarre and disturbing behavior at the family viewing. Oddly enough, though, once we left the funeral home, there was no pulling together to support each other in our shared grief and loss. We all adjourned to our respective corners to lick our wounds in private. Me, being 11, had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to be doing in my corner, and while I looked to the adults upon whom I had grown to depend over my relatively short lifetime, I got … nuthin’. Zero. Zed. Pity, I thought, even at the time. One would think this significant emotional event would have brought us together. Instead, it only served to highlight the rather high level of dysfunction that had been roiling just under the surface all along.
There always seems to be lots of turmoil in the wake of a death. There have been knock-down-drag-outs over make-up for the deceased; even when the deceased never wore make-up when they were alive. Why is it so important to ensure the dearly departed have a rosy glow upon their cheeks? Will the world as we know it cease to exist if they look – heaven forbid – dead as they lie in state at the funeral home or church? Perhaps we turn to anger because we are more familiar with that emotion, and it’s far less uncomfortable to witness – or engage in – ranting, raving, and turning purple than it is to see someone melted into a puddle of inconsolable grief in the middle of the floor. Some of you may recall this scene from the 1989 “Steel Magnolias.”
Perhaps, sometimes, the root of the angst is guilt. Over compensation. Allow me to assuage my guilt by indulging in a little public self-flagellation. Allow me to exhibit my undying, unwavering love for this person in a totally low cost, no risk transaction. I offer as Exhibit A in support of this theory, this clip from one of my favorite movies, “Imitation of Life.” Who, you ask, is the Distressed Damsel? Well, that would be the Dearly Departed’s daughter, who spent the majority of her vapid young life denying her brown-skinned mother in her attempt to pass for Caucasian. So, little Sarah, while we’d like to recommend you save the drama for your Mama, you kinda burned that bridge, huh? And, bye-the-bye, could you back up off those gardenias, please?
Maybe it’s that we are simply uncomfortable with the whole concept of death, as discussed in this interesting public radio offering. We have a problem with the verb “to die.” Morir. Mourir. Morietur. Sterben. To skirt the issue, we resort to flowery euphemisms: homecoming, homegoing, expire. Or, for the more cynical among us, dysphemisms such as croak, buy the farm, kick the bucket.
Well, this post didn’t go quite as I had originally envisioned, but sometimes you just have to “roll with it.” And so, I leave you with this final point to ponder.