Updated: Aug 9
We don’t need sympathy the day of the funeral, we need it when the crowds have all gone home.
A month after the funeral when it feels like everyone has forgotten…that’s when we need to hear from you. When everyone goes back to class, back to work, and back to making the bed.
Grief knows a little about me.
When we moved to Ottawa from across the country, my parents were finally bidding adieu to the nomadic lifestyle that had me in and out of three provinces, six schools, and eight houses by the age of fourteen. The moving business had been rough on my dad but he was making a fresh career change into real estate way before the market got saturated with agents. His inclusive and easygoing disposition was perfect for the real estate industry. Mom and Dad were looking forward to a higher income and I was looking forward to bedroom walls plastered in Corey Hart posters. Ones that I could leave up permanently.
Most of my dad’s family lived in and around Ottawa. Most of my mom’s family lived about a six-hour drive away. They planned a weekend drive out there a couple of months after moving. She was so excited to finally get to see her mom and dad, her sister and brothers, and her oodles of nieces and nephews. It had been far too long only communicating over the phone and through letters.
There was talk of my older sister and I going along for the drive in our boxy Buick LaSabre but for some reason that didn’t happen. Maybe they decided that it wouldn’t have been fair to take us while leaving my younger brother and sister behind. A family trip for us kids to see that side of the family in the summer, perhaps? That’s likely what they imagined.
They drove off on Valentine's Day. We love you. Kisses and hugs before school.
Driving in February in Ontario is not for the faint of heart. But they made it there. So many hugs and chats and giggles and catch-ups. Thank God they made it there.
They did not make it home.
After the car accident, every day was long, blurry, and weighty. So weighty. More tears than I could have imagined poured directly out of my soul. Day after day after day. Is it possible to carry boulders in your heart? My brain screamed at me every single morning as soon as my eyelids separated.
They’re dead. It's not a dream.
They’re still dead.
There were many people around the days and weeks after my parents died. So many people. I didn’t feel particularly close to anyone since we’d just moved but the ‘crowds’ were at least a distraction for us kids — the attention, the meals, the days of not having to go back to school.
But then it ended.
Around the six-week mark, people talked less about my parents. Less people asked. As a kid, I didn’t know how to let people know that I still needed to talk about them. If no one is talking about them, maybe I shouldn’t talk about them. Everyone is back to making their bed so maybe I should be back to making the bed. But how does making the matter anymore? Nothing matters anymore…
Walking through the mall or in a grocery store I’d be inwardly flabber-ghasted at everyone’s busyness, oblivious to my new reality. MY PARENTS ARE DEAD!! I felt like screaming. Does anyone care that my parents are dead??!!
I was far too polite and sweet and concerned for others to do that. On the outside. On the inside, there was lots of screaming going on.
So much of me desperately needed post-funeral attention, but an equally massive part of me did not want to attract even the tiniest bit of attention. A both/and scenario.
At school, after a while, I laughed at stupid jokes again, goofed off in the hallways, and gossiped with friends. There, I need to be as normal as all the other kids. School was my escape.
But when I sat on the bus after school, when I was trying hard to concentrate on homework, or when I was aching to fall asleep at night — when I was oh so alone, that’s when I needed to know that someone, anyone, still remembered me. Remembered the hell I was still going through.
A card in the mailbox or a message on our answering machine would have assured me of that. For most people, attending the funeral marks the beginning of the end of their mourning. For the left-over loved ones, the funeral is a part of the early, early stages of grieving.
Did people remember? Of course they did. I’m sure that every hour of every day for several months after the funerals, someone somewhere was thinking of us kids and the messed up situation we were in. My parents were loved by so many family members and friends from across the country. People were devastated by their deaths. Sympathy cards poured out of several shoe boxes piled all lopsided in the corner of the living room.
But it was two months after the funerals, after the hubbub was over, that I needed any kind of reminder that someone still cared.
Please don’t forget about me. I’m still here. I’m hardly breathing.
It’s not that I would have talked about my parents to just anyone at just any time. Nothing forced. I remember the guidance counselor at school, who I’d never had a conversation with, opening up to me in her office a couple of times in hopes that, in turn, I would open up to her. She would chat with me about how her eightyish-year-old dad had died. Like that was a relatable situation. It wasn’t, not even close. I’d shrink down into my chair waiting for a chance to shoot out of that room like a bullet. My guidance counselor was not the right person. That was not the right time.
I didn’t really want to talk (I’m sure I needed to talk, but that is an entirely different thing) which is the mourner’s prerogative. My best friend and I would walk through the forest to the swamp behind her house and bring our woes to the resident ‘swamp monster’. Who knows what we talked about and busted our guts over at the edge of the slimy green but even there, with the safest of safe persons, I hardly talked about my newly donned orphan status.
A card or a voicemail weeks after the fact would have brought certain solidarity. Don’t worry about what to say. It doesn’t have to be wordy or eloquent. Just say something.
I remember. And I’m thinking about you.
I may not be with you but I’m remembering your mom and dad with you.
I haven’t forgotten your parents. Your dad was always so kind to me, and your mom… I still laugh when I think about the Cheesies she stuck up her nose at that party.
I couldn’t talk about it but I needed to hear someone talk about it. It didn’t matter who. It just mattered that it was still as real to other people as it was to me.
There have been many more funerals to attend since my mom and dad’s on those two bleak days, one in February and one in March, all those years ago. They’re never easy.
And I’m not perfect at checking in at the six-week point, but I try.
Check in on your family and friends who have lost someone they loved. Do it six weeks after the funeral and then maybe again two weeks later.
You may never receive a verbal or written thank you but, I promise, your card or voice mail will have been just what they needed at just the right time.