My grandpa died. It’s okay. Really, it is. I’ll miss him, but he was in pain, and it was his time. I’m being completely honest here, but a lot of people aren’t when they say things like that. They cover themselves in various reassurances, from the afterlife to “it was his time,” in order to save themselves and those around them from the deep, hard grief that grows inside them, terrified that its obsidian edges will crack through at any moment.
People have been dying for a long time, yet it seems that every time it happens, neither mourner nor those around him or her know what to do. We don’t want to say the wrong thing, lest those edges come to light. If we’re too positive (“Just be happy of the time you had!”) we risk reminding the griever that those good times are gone. If we’re negative (“What an awful thing to have happened”) we could be encouraging a downward spiral. We send flowers or cards, we offer hugs, knowing that were we in the position of the griever, flowers would do little to fill the dent in the hospital bed. In fact, flowers not helping is probably the only constant in terms of dealing with a grieving person. Some will cry for months, others will sigh with acceptance and move on. Some people want to be alone. Some people can’t be alone.
And even if they do need people around, how should the griever talk about it? There’s a guilt in grieving; nobody wants to dwell on the sadness, or bring other people down, or rehash the same “It’s ok, it was his time” to a hundred pitying faces. Nobody wants to be the one to bring it up, answering a simple “How was your weekend?” by talking about the funeral and going through the I Didn’t Know’s and What Happened’s and Are You Alright’s.
My boyfriend announced to a small group of our friends that my grandpa died in a secondhand way, emailing a thread that we wouldn’t be able to go to the beach on an upcoming weekend because we had to attend his funeral. Soon I started receiving texts and emails, all well meaning and all equally confused. Each began with some variation of “email is the least personal way I can express this” or “this is a poor way of communicating” or “I don’t know the protocol for this.”
In fact, it was the best way of communicating I could imagine at the moment. There is a freedom that comes with communication that many deem “impersonal.” How wonderful to know support is out there, and yet not have the obligation to respond. To not receive cards with pre-written poems in a tastefully ornate font, or need to change the subject to something more upbeat after you’ve relayed all the information to a friend. In email and text, you just have the words. There was proof, right on my phone, that people thought enough to do something, and I didn’t have to do anything in return. That sounds selfish, but so is grief. After all, the dead aren’t the ones in pain anymore.
By the time I saw any of my friends the initial pain was over. Some hugged me and reminded me how sorry they were, but most moved right on to planning group picnics and getting drinks. Life moved on quickly. But whenever I need it, I can take comfort in the words, sent immediately and instinctively, without any thought to form. The raw proof of love, saved on a cell phone.