As my regular readers know, I write a lot about death. One reason is I believe that if you don't understand your death you'll never understand your life.
But perhaps I've not devoted enough attention to what families experience after death. This all came home to me the other day when an East Coast e-mail friend sent me a note about the death early this month of his aged father.
Here's part of what he said:
"As you may remember, now I have buried a son, a mother (Dad was ill and
recovering in the hospital from major surgery when she died) and now my
father. I have noticed something. From the beginnings of the 'troubles'
through the funeral everyone will hover around offering to 'do whatever
it is you need us to do.' (I've taken to responding by asking them to
paint my house which, for some reason, no one has wanted to do despite
their vow to do 'anything' that would help me.) But the second the funeral
is over all these helpful people fall completely off the radar.
It does seem to me that possibly if we were to change the mindset of the American people there should be a little more aftercare from your friends and relatives. After all, for three months I had been kept busy running back and forth from home to the hospital to the nursing home, answering phone calls at two in the morning and generally kept busy with those things that accompany a terminal condition. Now, of course, I have a great deal of empty space in my life with no one around to help me adjust to it, even if that means simply giving me something else to think about for a little while.
"Ah well. I've done it twice before and I survived it. But maybe others need a little more than we give."
In that sense -- and in that sense only -- it may be helpful if someone dies in a way that forces everyone to revisit the death on a regular basis. We do that now each Sept. 11 with the 9/11 death of my nephew Karleton, a passenger on American flight 11, the first plane to smash into the World Trade Center.
This past week found scattered members of my family posting old pictures of Karleton on Facebook and reminiscing about various stages of his life. It was a wonderful way to celebrate this good young man. But suppose Karleton had died of natural causes on some Aug. 25 or some such date. Yes, we would remember, but perhaps not in the same way that the annual 9/11 anniversary forces us to each year.
Still, there are lots of families whose loved ones have died on an otherwise-anonymous Aug. 25, and we would do well to remember that one of the tasks of people of faith is to comfort the afflicted and to mourn with those who mourn.
This task doesn't stop with the funeral. There are people like my friend who need you to check in with them this week. I hope you will.
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MORE ADMIRERS OF POPE FRANCIS
Rome's chief rabbi was quite taken with recent words from Pope Francis about Jews and Christians. This pope is making friends all over the place, even while he upsets traditionalists. It's kind of fun to watch.