Confronting The Abyss

If you’ve been on planet Earth for a while, you’ve inevitably had to deal with death — and you have come to realize that it affects people differently, and they deal with it differently.  There is no right or wrong way.

My first job out of college was writing obituaries for the Toledo Blade.  In those days, the Blade treated obituaries as standard news stories, which meant the facts of the individual’s life and death, the names of survivors, and so forth had to be confirmed with a member of the decedent’s family.  It was not exactly a job well-suited to a callow, arrogant youth.  Some of the grieving family members I called to get the necessary information were so distraught and caught up in the rawness of their emotion they could barely speak, and I could feel the intensity of their pain through the phone line.  Others were ready for my call and very pleasant and business-like as they rattled off the names of survivors and the dates and times of calling hours.

That job taught me that there is no one way to respond to the loss of a friend or loved one.  (Being in heavily ethnic Toledo, where names like Czyzewski and Szilagyi were not uncommon, it also taught me the importance of double-checking spellings and careful proofreading.  People who open their newspaper and see that the name of a decedent or survivor is misspelled can get very angry, indeed.)

Some people don’t want to dwell on their pain; they prefer to move on and try not to think about it.  Others want to be by themselves, to wrestle with their mix of feelings and memories without having to put on a brave face for others.  I prefer to be with others who are dealing with the same loss.  I think there is a reason why, in many different cultures that developed at points across the globe, the deeply rooted tradition is for the community to come together to remember those who have gone on.  For me, it’s better to share stories and laughs and experiences with like-minded people than to thrash about alone, obsessing about questions of cosmic unfairness that can never be satisfactorily answered.

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1 thought on “Confronting The Abyss

  1. I agree, Bob. In Judaism, the shiva serves this purpose, and other religious traditions have similar ways of handling this. As several of us who gathered up in Cleveland last night would attest, there is something powerful about community, and yes, even laughter, in a time of great pain and loss.

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