December 10, 2012


do you have a better system?

The funeral is attended by 30 people. It's a military funeral because he was in Korea, and in the front chairs are his wife and two grown children, and they are quietly crying.

When it ends, people disperse hesitatingly, after all, they themselves aren't sad, they didn't know him, they knew his kids.  So they are unsure of what they're supposed to do next, but the answer is you keep going, there's nothing else to do but that.  That's the point of a funeral.

The deceased's wife has mourned her part, for now, and accompanied by her adult son walks away.  The adult daughter approaches the coffin, sobbing.  She is pretty, which unfortunately is relevant.  Her husband hugs her, and then takes their two little girls away from her, down towards the road, giving the woman the required freedom to be someone's daughter one last time. 

She kneels at the coffin.  She cries.  Everyone can hear it.  It is sad.


But some people are unsatisfied with a system that's been in place for more millennia than years they've been alive. They don't trust that it's effective because when the funeral is over people are still sad.   What kind of stupid ritual is that?  These people want to change the system, they believe they know a better way.

Most people instinctively turn away and give her some kind of privacy, but about ten of them move forward to surround her: what's this? A woman crying?  At a funeral?? They huddle around her in a semi-circle, hyenas waiting for a signal.  One hyena steps forward, tries to hug her from behind; and you can see the surprise in that dummy's face when he doesn't get the expected hug back, when it doesn't seem to help, the grieving daughter doesn't stop crying, she doesn't even get up.  The hyena is caught awkwardly, so he rests his paws on the woman's shoulders, and now the sobbing woman must associate her last chance to be with what is left of her father with the stale breath of a sycophant waiting for his moment to be relevant.

And while that's going on others are whispering to the quivering back of her coat, "oh, I'm so sorry",  "I'm sure he really loved you",  "are you ok?"

Why did any one of them think they had the power, the right, to interfere with another person's mourning?  This was between her and her father and God and no one else.  Did no one notice that even the husband had given her space?  Did they just think he was being a jerk?  "I just wanted to comfort her."  No, you didn't know what else to do, so you did that.  "I didn't want her to be alone."   That's because you are a terrible person.

They do not know how to stand in the presence of grief because they can't help but make it immediately a judgment of themselves-- how can you see a woman crying and not do anything?    Purposeless hyperactivity to cover up one's impotence and lack of empathy.  "But I'm not the one grieving, I can't fake being sad."  Don't fake it, just be silently and unobtrusively available. I know you don't think you're the most important person there, but you are also not the second most important.  Or the third or tenth.  Get out of the way. 

But they can't, they think it has suddenly become their responsibility to save you. Look around, all those other people-- yours?  Do you think you can?  Do you think that anything you say is going to bring the dead back?  Ease her suffering?

She's supposed to be sad, she needs to be sad, if she wasn't crying enough I'd kick her in the shins to make her, otherwise she will hold all of that emotion and let it out piecemeal over three decades and she will be lost.

These animals suffer from a deep existential pathology for which there is no cure, in ordinary times they will be the most ordinary people but when the ship goes down they will kill each other to make sure they get a lifeboat all for themselves.  Medicine won't help this, religion won't help this.  On the one hand they don't know how to be real, on the other hand they they think protocol and formality is dishonest and insensitive.  They can't say, "my condolences" because it sounds fake.  So they improvise, catastrophically.

We should all be so lucky that as adults we get to attend our father's funeral, doesn't make it easier but that's a fact, because the alternative is that it happens the other way around, and I can think of nothing worse than the other way around.  But even then the system is in place, if you blindly follow the steps-- if people let you blindly follow the steps-- then when you are finished you can begin to go back to your life.  Death creates a hole in your heart that is unfillable, but if you follow the steps you can at least fence it off so you don't keep falling in. 

There is no shortcut to mourning, the shortcut leads to madness.  When you subvert the system and offer a mourner a shortcut, you are leading them to madness.

But how can she let go, how can she do what needs to be done, under the oppressive gaze of self-conscious people who need her to know they came?  "I just want to support her!"  Then you'd go back to your car, connect a hose from the exhaust pipe to a slightly opened window, and wait it out. 

When she first told people about her father's death it came with a gift to others, a qualifier: "I won't be there on Wednesday, my father passed away and I'll be at the funeral-- it's ok, I'm fine" but nevertheless grown neophytes went to Defcon 5.  This is one such text message: "OH MY GOD, ARE YOU SERIOUS!  OH MY GOD, I AM SO SORRY, WHAT HAPPENED??  PLEASE CALL ME IMMEDIATELY!!"  The text message ends there because I smashed it.

One man, either a friend or a blastoma, came to the funeral luncheon mostly to ask the daughter what was up with her girlfriend he was trying to date.  He's 50.  I know he didn't think he was being selfish or insensitive, he truly believed she'd welcome the chance to talk about his relationship, she'd want him to be happy, she'd use this sad day to tell him how love was the most important thing in the world and he should seize it because life is so short.  That's how it happened in Four Weddings And A Funeral, anyway.  I will bet you all of your money that as he got dressed in his black suit and lavender shirt, inside his head was playing, "going to the chapel and we're....."  Did he come to support her?  No, he came to destroy the world. 

Six different psychopaths called her to demand they come to the the funeral to "show their support."  Who do you think you are fooling?  Each of them wanted to be the best friend that would accompany her through the terrible day.  Each of them believed that they were the best friend that would do this.  But just because she's on the phone with you all the time solving your crises, it doesn't make you a best friend, it makes you a patient.  A real best friend wouldn't use a funeral as a way of solidify their own place as "best friend." A real best friend wouldn't feel jealous that some other friend got to sit closer, got more attention.

One psychophant who came to the luncheon to "show support" didn't get the extra acknowledgement she expected, so she decided instead to perform unsolicited grief therapy on the woman's five year old daughter.  "Since we didn't get a chance to connect at the funeral," she said later, "[your daughter] and I had a good talk about what happens when you die." If I had seen this happen I'd be in prison now.  The only thing this woman can connect with is a phone charger, the battery is always dying.   "Hi, I just texted you, I wanted to see if you were free to talk about me, but I only have two hours."

It's not your day, your method sadness is irrelevant, your pseudo-concern transparent and you are forcing mourners to divert their attention to you.   "I had Christ in my mouth for over an hour!" was a post funeral text from a woman who... what?  I'm not a Catholic so it took me a few minutes to piece together that this lunatic meant she had kept the Eucharist from the funeral mass in her mouth without swallowing it for an hour-- as if that meant something.   Woman, you are insane, your personal relationship with Jesus is pathological, I'll guess you voted for Romney but you are the reason Obama won.   It's bad enough you think your God wants you to be an hysterical neurotic, but why would you then tell this to a woman mourning her father?  Why would you think she'd derive comfort from what you did?

It's no surprise that the new DSM removes the bereavement exception from the diagnosis of depression-- no one allows normal bereavement to occur.  How can ordinary bereavement ever occur when it is subverted, worsened, at every turn by people who were never taught how to act around other people, who just don't know?   "I just want to help."  You are destroying the world.

I understand funerals can be awkward for those not directly grieving, but over-exaggerating your pretend sadness is of no benefit to anyone, it merely obligates the survivors to manage your fake concern.  If you feel compelled to speak in all caps or explain how terrible this all is to a person who knows first hand and way better than you how terrible it all is, don't.  Stay home.  When you find yourself in the presence of mourning, simply say,  "I'm sorry for your loss.  If there's anything I can do for you, please let me know," and if he happened also to have been a great man you can add, "he was a great man," then bow your head and fade to back.   That's all that's necessary.  The system will take care of the rest.