“So Your Mom Died 2 Years Ago? It’s Time To Move On.”
In October of 1986, when I was 11 – my mother’s father died. My grandfather. I remember my mom telling me to wash my hair well because there would be many people at the Irish Catholic wake that would kiss me on my head and that I should smell clean.
I remember walking into the funeral home and the stench of flowers knocking the wind out of me. I remember seeing my grandfather at the far end of the room lying in an open casket. I froze. My mother did not tell me I would see a dead body. Not to mention the dead body of my grandfather. My grandmother sat far away at the other end of the room. And my mother greeted everyone who walked in. The family spoke of funerals passed, and I remember them talking about my Aunt Betty, who died at age 27 in a car accident. They had a conversation about how pretty she looked. And about how she was buried in the dress she wore to my Uncle Sonny’s wedding. They remembered all the deaths mourned in this funeral home. They were going through the dead like pictures in an album. By day 3 of that wake, my cousin Bryan got in trouble for playing with G.I Joe action figures on the kneeler in front of the casket. My cousins and I had gotten comfortable there and when my Papa was buried and we all went home to our houses – that’s when it got really dark and quiet and sad.
In March of 1987, when I was 12 – my mother’s mother died. My grandmother. I remember visiting her in the hospital and giving her a plant of clovers because it was St. Patrick’s Day. I remember her nails were painted nicely. She wished me a happy birthday and said, “You’re almost a teenager!” She died two days later, and we did the whole shebang again. Same funeral home, same people same conversations about how the dead looked “good.” My grandmother’s nails remained the same in the casket as they had in the hospital. Painted nicely. They discussed how my grandmother was wearing the dress she wore to my Uncle Sonny’s wedding. We buried her. We went home, and my mother went to sleep. No, she went to sleep – like she stayed in her bed for the next six months with a white noise machine blowing reality out of her mind, and silencing the world around her. We ate a lot of Chinese takeout, and we all wondered if my mother would ever be the same. If she would ever come out of the room and if she would ever “not be sad.” I remember some women from the neighborhood talking on the bench in the park, and they were discussing how my mother lost her parents very close together. One woman said, “Yeah but it’s the summer. The kids wanna have fun. What’s it been? 6 Months? She’s gotta snap out of this. It’s time to move on.” My mother eventually re-entered the real world, but I’m not quite sure she has ever moved on. They were her parents, and she has told me that once both of your parents are gone – life takes on a whole new meaning, and you are NEVER the same. She told me that the sadness is unexplainable.
After that … it was just death after death for me. They say death comes in 3’s. Yes, they do. And they kept coming. My 14-year-old cousin Timmy died. My friend Tony from school got shot in a pool hall and died. My friends 36-year-old mom died suddenly – leaving him alone at 16. And there were so many more. Suicides, accidents, murders, I remember them all. And I remember everyone involved. The mothers who lost children. The sons and daughters that lost mothers and fathers. The sisters that lost brothers and the brothers that lost sisters. I remember thinking about them all the time and having immense sympathy for their loss. I sent cards and notes remembering the ones we lost to the families but never did I EVER wonder when they would “Move on?”
I think it is incredibly insensitive and detached to make that comment in a discussion about the families who have suffered a loss. I think it’s disrespectful and hurtful to make that comment to a grieving family member directly. I think it’s intrusive and belligerent. I think the people who say these sorts of things are callous and not to be trusted. I know, it sounds harsh but I’ve seen a mother hover over the casket of her 20-year-old son who shot himself, howl and scream for her baby. I watched her place her head on his chest and heave because she could not hear his heart beat. I watched his two little sisters witness their mother in this kind of pain, and I’m not sure I’ve “moved on” from that and he wasn’t my family member. I was there when the funeral home was again packed with all of us 20-year-olds and my friends – the boys – who were NY tough guys – cried like babies for our friend who passed of a heroine overdose. I watched them tremble and rock back and forth in pain. And our friend who passed, HIS mother addressed the crowd and talked to us about what drugs do. And she pleaded with us to not take drugs while wearing a t-shirt that read “LUCID AGONY.” Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” played. I don’t think I’ve “moved on” from that.
Here’s my advice. No one needs your two cents. No one cares about whether or not YOU think it’s time to “snap out of it.” If the man who lost his young and beautiful wife suddenly, two years ago, hasn’t gone on a date yet – please keep your mouth shut, unless HE inquires with you about dating. Maybe consider that he’s raising two little girls by himself and not only did he lose his wife, but they lost their “Mommy” suddenly. Their stay-at-home, involved in the PTA and Home Owners Association – Mom … one morning because quite frankly, she just never woke up. Concentrate on your breath and thank your higher power for granting you another day and look up the word “empathy.” Use it in a sentence and then apply it to your index of emotions. Unfortunately, empathy is not innate. It’s learned. So if your mommy and daddy never taught you how to put yourself in another’s shoes – then you get yourself to the nearest therapy office and start to work on your own issues and then maybe – when you begin to heal you, yourself can “move on.”
Originally published on November 20, 2014
Photo Credit: © Elizabeth Regen All Rights Reserved