Don't Tell Me What To Do
I recently heard an interesting request:
“When I die, I hope that no one grieves. I hope they celebrate the fact that I’ve moved on to a much better place. I hope to have my wake while I’m still alive, so that I can enjoy the food and the company. I don’t want grief to darken one person’s day. l want people to move on with the process of living the wonderful lives we’ve been given with only an occasional glance back, with a smile at the memories.”
Nice sentiment. But the problem is that it doesn’t work, for one simple reason.
Grief is not about what the dead or dying person wants. Rather, grief is about the reaction of the person who is left. The deceased may have moved on to a better place, which is nice, but the survivor is NOT in a better place. Their world has changed. They probably do not like the place they are in, and the last thing they feel like doing is celebrating. For many, grief after a significant loss does sadly darken many a day.
It always surprises me how well-intentioned people seem to feel that belief in that “better place” should cancel out the harsh reality of the griever’s “current place.” Even those with little or no religious conviction hold on to the hope that their loved one is “some place” and are “OK”, which is understandable.
I remember after my wife died people remonstrating that “she was in heaven and that I should be rejoicing.” Believe me, that was not my reaction. While I smiled benignly when the sentiment was expressed, deep in my heart I was feeling that I was in a rotten place. I didn’t like it, I didn’t want it, and worst of all I couldn’t change it. I kept thinking, “What was so wrong with THIS place?” I also liked to think that maybe she herself wasn’t exactly thrilled to leave everything behind, as wonderful as I am sure heaven must be.
Frankly when I die, I would like people to grieve. I would like to think that I would be missed after I am gone, and that someone would shed a tear or two over my absence. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want them to go on and make the most of the wonderful lives that they have been given and that hopefully I have contributed to.
I actually agree with many of the sentiments expressed in the original statement. YES, let’s have a party while I am still here to enjoy it, although a “wake” would also allow people to come together to comfort one another after I’m gone. YES, l would like people to move on with life and living, and look back on my life and our shared experience with a smile at the memories. No problem with any of that!
All I object to is someone telling me that I shouldn’t grieve. By saying “I hope that no-one grieves” would actually be denying the person permission to express the natural feelings that arise when you miss someone, or when you wonder how you will be able to go on without them. So when someone does not feel like celebrating their journey to that better place, they feel guilty, as if they are not honoring the wishes of this person they cared about.
So what happens to the grieving person in that situation? More than likely they “feel” a sense of grief and loss because their world has changed and they miss the person like crazy. But at the same time they feel they should not “express” their grief by showing or expressing those inner feelings out of respect for the wishes of the deceased.
But, hold on! In fact, I am just as wrong saying that ‘I want people to grieve’ as my friend who ‘hopes that no-one grieves.’ Grief is about and for the person who is left … their reaction and response to this loss that has affected their world. It is not for me to tell those whom I leave behind how or what they should or should not feel. No-one knows how they will react to any situation until they actually find themselves in the circumstances.
Giving oneself permission to grieve and heal from the hurt of our human loss always takes great courage. But it takes even more courage to have given others your blessing and the freedom to do what they need to do after you have gone.