Sunday, April 27, 2008


There seems to be a disconnect in our culture when it comes to talking about death. I've been experiencing this disconnect more fully this past week. My grandmother passed away. My last grandparent. At the age of 92, she died in her sleep some time between 12 am and 1 am on April 22, 2008.

When I got the phone call, my father said simply, "Nan passed away last night." Immediately, I began to cry. My dad, unsure of what to say or how to comfort me repeated words he had heard. One of the things my father said was this: "If there is a place people go, I'm sure Nan is with her family now." I held back my tears completely aghast and responded by saying, "Are you kidding me? Dad, you, an atheist, just said to your atheist daughter, that you're sure she's in the afterlife." He immediately became sheepish and said, "I know."

The fact is, he didn't know what to say so he relied on the stock answer to death - an answer he doesn't even believe in. That the person is still in some way living on in the afterlife. Our culture can't seem to find death comforting, unless it's padded with some idea of heaven. For me, dying and decomposing, and feeding the world that has fed us our entire lives, is comforting. The fact that my Nan is no longer suffering like she had been the past 2+ years is comforting. The idea of heaven, to me, just simplifies death too much. It puts a band aid on it so the loss seems less some how.

I'll be reading at her funeral. I had written a poem last November about her suffering. It's very personal. Too personal. Too much about death to speak about at her funeral- a funeral which should be about her life. About how much she means to the family, how much she means to me. So instead of the poem, which is too glum, too wrapped up in the language of suffering, I'll be writing something new. Prose. About the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. About my memories of her. I'm the youngest in her family, and I've known her the least amount of time than anyone. I wish I had more time.

I'm convinced that we as people are uncomfortable with loss. We don't have the vocabulary for it. "I'm so sorry" just doesn't seem like enough. So we avoid talking about it all together. Or we cloud the reality with visions of harps and eternal happiness. When all that really needs to be said, is a kind word, or even wordless, a hug. Just to let the person know, that although they have lost someone important, there are still people here in the tangible world that love them.