(Although, by mere omission, I did accidentally imply to my Senate advisor for a full year that my parents had divorced and my dad wasn't around or that he was for some other reason, just never in my life to begin with!)
But anyway, back to euphemisms. I'm sure you've heard just as many as I have, although sometimes it feels like I've heard them all! Especially for dogs. I don't know what it is, but us humans cannot deal with the fact that our dogs don't live as long as we do. Dogs have always gone to doggy heaven, or to the great park in the sky. What the hell?
It makes sense, though. Death is hard to talk about, even for those of us who pretended for nine years that it has no emotional kickback for those of us still kicking. Not only are we saying someone who has been here is never going to be here again,* but we also are often introducing the idea to someone else. I know it feels easier to tell someone else that my Dad has passed, than to stare them in the face and say, "My Dad's been dead and cremated for twelve years, and his ashes sat on our tv cabinet for a long time. For all we know, you may have been walking past the remains of my dead Dad for years, without knowing it!" That just seems seems a mite heavy-handed.
Even if you're not biting back deadpan black humor about dead people, there's a definite sense of not wanting to upset other people, when I mention my dad. I know that's often part of the reason I don't say anything, or I used to, at least. (And that's how my advisor had no idea after seeing my more than twice a week for a full year!) I know whoever I'm talking to will feel uncomfortable. And probably not know what to say. And then definitely say, "Oh, I'm so sorry." Guaranteed. And then I say, "Oh, it's ok." Every time. So, I just didn't tell people.
I still remember when I took P.E. over the summer, before my freshman year of high school (because all the cool kids were doing it! Just kidding, all the academically driven kids were doing it. Also, I didn't want to get sweaty and change between classes during the school year.), we had a section on health or something. We had an assignment where we had to write down three major events in our lives, and then stick them on the wall on a giant timeline.
The teacher was reading a few out loud, and then said, "oh, this is a sad one: 'My dad died, age 10.'" The class room was quieter for a few minutes afterwards. And after that section, my group of three friends I was hanging out with throughout P.E. that summer, talked about my note.
One of them said, "Oh, I bet that was <name censored>. He's always trying to get attention talking about that."
After someone else chimed in, I said, "No, that was me." They didn't really know what to say. I think I walked away after that, but maybe we started playing 13 (the card game) again.
Haha, it felt good to own that moment, and surprise them, a bit, but most of the time, the obvious discomfort people feel almost made me feel shitty for even mentioning it, especially if no one asked about my dad. I felt like, well, I had had 10 years or whatever to deal with it, but who am I to force someone new to have to confront death in this immediate and tiny way? Additionally, it was always a hassle, a thing. Better to just avoid the subject entirely.
A lot of this reminds me of a conversation I had with Sharon, one of my coffeeshop coworkers. She was telling my roommate about her son who committed suicide at age 24, when she used the phrases, "he passed" and I think if I remember correctly, "he took his life." There may have been a "he's no longer with us" in there or not, I don't remember. She just reminded me of this (almost) lifelong struggle I've had--figuring out how to tell people that someone I loved is now dead. She's mentioned this concept before, hating to meet people because "I didn't want to tell them it was ok."When she said that, my heart stopped.
YES! Of course we hate telling people it's ok! Because it's not! And this particular part of our lives never will be. And that's just how it is, as non-melodramatically as possible, thank you very much. But honestly, just like I know there really is nothing to say, but "I'm sorry," (for what, accidentally asking about a dead person? Reminding me? Or just in general?), there is also really nothing to say after that but either "yup" "well.." or "it's ok..." (Well what did you expect?) The reality is, sometimes it's ok to say nothing, sometimes you feel too awkward to, and no matter what, verbal ticks like that are really just verbal fillers that aren't adding anything but buffer between us and the sad stuff we have hard times talking about.
I'm not here with any suggestions or anything. I've been on both sides of this exchange plenty of times. The closest thing I have to advice is that, for the non-griever, it is almost always ok to not say anything, as long as your body language is attentive, even if the silence feels awkward to you. But honestly that's all I got.
Lisa (P-D) told me once, (I think--I could have also read an article about it), that Americans don't have any ritualized way to grieve anymore after the funeral. We don't even wear black afterwards, and honestly it is a shame. Processes that are part of the culture give us permission to feel the pain that we sometimes hold in. So we grieve for ten years and then start glogs for lack of better things to do.
*Sharon (coffeeshop coworker, approx half century older than me) told me this week that people like us (who've had close loved ones die) understand the word "never" in a way that no one else does. (I take that to mean, knowing that someone is permanently separated from you--you will never see them again.) And honestly, I agree. I've been thinking over the last few weeks about how to describe my pain and my grief (in musings about potential poems I could write, but didn't.) And every time I came up short after some kind of thought about having a hole cut out of us, but the new us with the hole is now the whole us. (Wow, that's a lot more poetic than I thought it was!) There is no "filling" of the hole--that emptiness, that little bit of nothing is permanent.
And in between thinking this and hearing Sharon say that about "never," I read a lovely little book by Kate DiCamillo that also hit on that. And I can't find the quote. I remember that I tensed up as I read this, hoping that whatever Rob Horton said about missing his mother rang true, and when he said it, I relaxed, because he had hit it right on. But alas, I'm not sure what it was. But it could have been this, which I think is a very accurate description of the numbness, and inability to strain to do anything but feed myself I've felt often: "He wanted to tell her that she was wrong. He wanted to tell her that he did not feel whole. But he did not have the energy or the heart to say anything; all he could manage was putting one foot in front of the other" (Dicamillo 106)
Also, I highly recommend this tiny 116-page book--it's really just wonderful. Even just the way the hotel maid says, "All right...you an angry liar, then" is just so fantastic (80). She just sees how Sistine deals with pain in that moment and affirms it without dressing it up.
DiCamillo, Kate. The Tiger Rising. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2002. Print.