Tuesday, December 30, 2014

AAA-14 Answer 7 – Loss and memes

Today’s “Ask Arthur” answer will take on two un-related questions from Roger Green. The first is serious, the second one isn’t. I wanted to lighten things up a bit after a couple days of heavy topics.

This year’s series finishes tomorrow, with a late-arriving question.

Roger’s first question is:

Thinking of my friend Steve Bissette, whose father died in late October and his mother in the last couple days: who was the greatest personal loss you've experienced? From the receiving end, what are best, and worst, things one can say to one who is grieving?

I think my answer to the first part is probably obvious from previous posts: My parents. Although my mother was probably the bigger influence on my life, I don’t know that her death was necessarily a bigger loss than my dad's was, possibly because they died only about half a year apart.

I was home from university at Thanksgiving. My mother was in the hospital, having just been diagnosed with cancer. My dad wasn’t coping well—he wasn’t eating right or taking care of himself, and he died suddenly one night soon after I got home—in the early hours of Thanksgiving morning. I’m the one who found him, and had to figure out what to do. I was 20.

My mother left the hospital, continuing treatment as an outpatient for a while, but she declined steadily. Eventually, she became bedridden and slept almost all the time. I was her primary caregiver until she died. I was 21.

My father’s death was a huge shock, my mother’s was expected, but there’s one thing more than maybe only those who have been a caregiver for a loved one with a terminal illness can understand: Her death came as a relief. By that time, I was emotionally numb, so maybe I just didn’t feel it as keenly as I would have had she gone first, or years later. I don’t know, I can’t really imagine, and I won’t try: Those wounds have closed, but even now can be opened up again.

It was all so very long ago, and I was numb at the time of both funerals, but from what I can remember, the things that helped—or, at least, didn’t cause any harm—were the simple statements of support. I don’t just mean the “if you need anything, give me a call,” type of thing, but people offering specific help, or just being there for me, like at the wake, for example. Bringing food is good, too.

To me, saying things like, “I was so sorry to hear” or “I’m so sorry for your loss” are good things to say. So is asking how the mourner is doing, as long as it’s said with genuine concern.

However, again just for me, the absolute worst thing anyone can say to someone mourning a loss is, “it’s all part of god’s plan” or some such thing. Even back when my parents died, a time when I was still a Christian, I would’ve been sorely tempted to punch anyone who said that to me (I don’t think anyone did). It’s rude, condescending, incredibly annoying, and doesn’t help in any way whatsoever (apart, just maybe, from making their god seem like a bit of a jerk…). I never believed that sort of “plan” thing.

Nowadays, with the benefit of time and having left organised religion behind, I think saying anything religious to a person is a really bad idea unless both belong to the same congregation, but even then, it’s probably not a good idea. Atheists, agnostics, non-theists, and the non-religious of any kind could be annoyed by what we might see as someone intruding themselves and their beliefs into our mourning. Personally, since I don’t believe in an afterlife, it sounds a bit silly to me when people say, “you’ll be together again some day.”

The reason I say it can be risky to use religious language with someone we believe to be religious is that we can’t know where they’re at in the moment. It’s not uncommon for people to “lose their faith” after a major personal loss, or they may feel temporary anger toward their god. Accidentally riling them up is bad and serves no good purpose.

So, I think that people should begin using the human supportive language I mentioned first, then take their cue from the grieving person. If they speak in religious terms, then it’s safe to respond in kind. If they don’t, stick to the personal. What matters the very most at a time of loss, I think, is our connection to other people, and that’s true for the religious and non-religious alike. That’s what we should focus on, I think.

As an aside, but related to this general topic, a few months after my mother died, I began the coming out process. I thought to myself at the time that if any of my dad’s parishioners found out, they’d assume it was “because” I’d lost both my parents so close to each other, and with me still so young. To them, I thought, I’d have an “excuse”. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t possibly have cared less what they—or anyone else—thought about me. I think that the fact I even thought in those terms shows how fragile my emotions were for some months after my parents died.

Roger’s other question for today is completely unrelated:

If there is an Internet quiz on your Facebook feed, what kind of quizzes are you likely to participate in, if any? Do you play any games such as Candy Crush?

I tend to do quizzes that are about things that interest me—pop music, TV shows, science, grammar, etc. I also tend to do quizzes that flatter me, like, “Which totally awesome person from history are you?” (as far as I know, that’s not an actual quiz…). When I do one of those quizzes, I never share the results like they ask me to, but I sometimes mention the results in a comment for whoever shared the quiz on Facebook. I don’t mind the fun and social aspects of those quizzes, but I won’t bother anyone by sharing the quiz with friends on Facebook.

I used to play Candy Crush, but I disconnected it from Facebook (like all the games I’ll mention, I played it on my iPad more than online) because I got sick of it always harassing me to send lives and stuff to my Facebook friends, a list that I realised included folks who don’t actually play the game. I also got frustrated with it, so I rarely play it anymore.

I played some other King games—Farm Heroes Saga, Bubble Witch 2, for example—but never linked them with Facebook.

Games I play that are still linked to Facebook are: Solitaire Blitz (which I play with family members), Words With Friends (ditto), Bejewelled Blitz (I play against FB friends), and Bubble Blitz (none of my Facebook Friends play that game anymore). I recently linked Simpsons: Tapped Out to Facebook because doing so means I can get stuff faster.

All of those games are fairly mindless, apart from Words, which is probably why I like them. But the only games I link to Facebook are one I actually play against FB friends.

Big thanks to Roger for his questions! And be sure to check out Roger's blog.

Tomorrow is the final in this "Ask Arthur" series, in which I take on questions from a new questioner.

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