There’s an article in MyTreo.net this morning about dealing with loss, and how people often tend to try to “help” a grieving person by offering their worst stories of loss. In this case, the author was talking about losing a Treo and the article was meant to be humorous, but couldn’t it just as easily be any kind of loss? You know what it reminds me of? Grief vultures.
If you’ve lost anyone really close to you, you know about this. These are people you may have never even met before, but they want to be part of the grief action, too. I know that we never know how we affect people, and so a person who dies may very well have a legion of secret admirers who suddenly come out of the woodwork to announce their devotion to the dearly departed. I’ll grant that. But some of the time it just rings hollow, as if the would-be mourners are seeking attention by crashing wakes and talking about how much they loved the departed.
I remember clearly that in June 2002, when Eppie Lederer (aka Ann Landers) and baseball pitcher Darryl Kile died on the same day, John Kass wrote a column called “So much to say after a death, so little we know” in the Chicago Tribune about this experience, and it resonated strongly with me. The article is archived and has to be purchased to be seen in its entirety, so I gladly paid the $3.95. It’s worth it for this quote alone, which wraps up the column (which I’m probably not supposed to be sharing in this large a passage, but it doesn’t really lend itself to excerpting):
Most likely in these recent accounts, there may have been a few anecdotes from folks who didn’t know the deceased, really, but who were perhaps drawn to the flame of celebrity, compelled to reach for that light as it flickered, and so revealed their own anxious appetites.
You also may have seen that same behavior expressed by folks you know, say at a church, a temple, at funeral homes, while mourning your own less public dead.
In the funeral home, there is that dull humming of mourning. You take a break, walk past the rows of chairs and make for the lobby.
Outside, standing on the driveway in their suits and dark clothes are folks just like you, paying respect, adopting a brief distance from the weight of the survivors inside.
In a group of three or four, someone is speaking with extreme authority. The others listen, nodding, to the explainer of the dead.
The explainer isn’t simply expressing grief or loss or admiration of character.
Instead, the explainer offers histories, a litany of motivations, of successes and failures, attempting to encapsulate something as complicated and mysterious as a life.
There is nothing to do but walk back inside, perhaps to say a prayer.
There are important bits of us unknown, even to those we love and who love us.
I’m not referring to anything dark. Rather, I’m referring to those decent parts of us that can’t be cataloged or touched by the explainers of the dead.
A friend of mine experienced a different kind of grief vulture when her husband died. A few people grilled her to share how it felt, how it really felt, to lose her husband and best friend so young. Apparently these people’s interest didn’t come across as supportive, but rather as if they were trying to satisfy some morbid curiosity.
I don’t have any neat and tidy way to wrap these thoughts up. I don’t know if I can simply say it must be human nature, and leave it at that. Personally, I think there’s some dysfunction in parts of our society that make it permissible to compete when competition is not relevant, like in everyday conversation. But getting into competitive conversation will take me off on a whole different rant, so I’ll save that for another day.