Follow by Email

Saturday, May 12, 2018

I Wish Sibling Death Were More Sympathy-Worthy

Antigone and The Body of Her Brother, Polynices. Lytras Nikiforos

I wish sibling death were more sympathy-worthy. I've been wishing this for forty-three years.

After I got the news of Phil's death, I went across the street to the home of the person I thought of as my best friend, Alice Gilabert. Her parents said she wasn't home. I went to Alice's room, the same room in the house as my room – all of our houses had the same floor plan. I curled up in Alice's bed and cried, alone. Alice never came home. She told me later that when she heard that my brother had been killed, she left town, because she knew I'd be crushed, and she knew I'd need her, and she felt she didn't have anything to offer.

Mike died while I was in Nepal. I got the news over long distance telephone in the Peace Corps office in Kathmandu. There were a couple of other volunteers in the office. As soon as I heard, I started crying. One of the Peace Corps volunteers, within earshot of me, criticized me to my bosses. She felt it was not the behavior worthy of a Peace Corps volunteer to cry in the Peace Corps office. PCVs are supposed to be noble and tough and above-it-all. I wish I could remember her name, so I could relay it here.

At the time I was dating a Scottish physician I had met at a remote and dusty border crossing between India and Nepal. He was very cute, very idealistic, and a birdwatcher like me. He later felt compelled to confess to me that he had distanced himself after Mike died because he couldn't handle my grief.

My fellow volunteers had never experienced the death of a loved one, and they just didn't want to be around me if I began to talk about it. They wanted me to fake it, to be my entertaining self. Nepalis couldn't grok the news at all. They couldn't believe that a healthy young American man, husband and father, would die. They thought we had cures for these things. I had nightmares. I had to talk myself through it. There was no one else around to talk to me about it. I had to remind myself: Mike is dead. Mike is dead. Mike is dead.

Antoinette was a wife and a mother so of course everyone's focus was on her daughters and her husband.

Joe was much older than I, and a male, and a different kind of guy. I'm not supposed to feel as sad as I do now.

I'm avoiding Facebook. I like and value Facebook for what it is. Part of what it is, all too often, is a place where some percentage of your friends are people who are living out fantasy selves, thus the term "Fakebook." Wow – spellcheck didn't even flag that. "Fakebook," evidently, is an actual word.

One fantasy self that some like to promote is "I'm really caring." If you talk about a death on Facebook, people will publicly post sympathy, but only a tiny fraction of the folks who engage in that public show of sympathy will ever send you a private message. One woman – I woman I like and value and am glad to have as a Facebook friend – posted on my page, "I am so sorry for your looks." She meant "loss" of course. She had not waited till my brother's death to remind me that I'm not pretty. But I need to avoid that level of insincerity right now. Death nails you to what is true.

Another thing I really couldn't handle reading. The – small minority of – folks who say, "I support you." I want to say to them, "Really? You support me? And all this time I thought it was me supporting me. That's why I've been going to work. I guess your checks have been getting lost in the mail."

One more gripe. The folks who wait till you are hurt and vulnerable to snipe, take swipes, settle scores. One woman made some comment about how she thinks I don't listen well so she didn't want to post condolences because I wouldn't "hear" them. Good grief.

No, two more gripes. The unsolicited advice. The poster who left instructions on how to grieve. Seriously? *Seriously*? Maybe I should leave her some instructions on how to communicate.

With most folks, I expect nothing. I recognize that our connections are ephemeral and shallow.

Some connections are not so ephemeral. I've known one Facebook friend, through the internet, for twenty-four years. We've been in touch regularly throughout that time. From her? Nothing. But she is a member of a religious cult that reassures her that she is righteous and the rest of us are damned. Why waste a condolence card on the damned?

Liberal atheists are not necessarily any better. I've known two liberal, atheist men for as long as I've known the above-mentioned woman. Neither has breathed a word to me. Or typed a word. Eff 'em. Seriously.

I don't always sound this bitter.

What would I prefer?


Send a card. Catholic? – Not you. The person who is mourning? Send a mass card. It's easy. It's not expensive. See here. You fill out an online form, donate $7.00 to Maryknoll missionaries who are doing great work, and a priest says a mass for the diseased.

Is that too much to ask?

Guess so.

Do I send mass cards?

Is the pope Catholic?

Or bring a casserole. Grief kills the appetite. Or you eat too much. I had vodka for breakfast day before yesterday. Today I had a Snickers bar that has been sitting in my refrigerator ever since it was leftover by some students playing a game who offered Snickers bars as prizes. Live far away? Send a ShopRite gift certificate.  

Or send flowers. Flowers represent beauty, life, and caring.

Just please don't post on my Facebook page, "I wish I could come over." The woman who posted that COULD COME OVER. But she didn't. Sheesh.

So, yes, avoiding Facebook. Soon enough I will regain the necessary rhino defenses. Not right now.

Last night I hit "I can't take it anymore" mode and "I need some human contact" mode. I knew I wouldn't be getting any of that so I watched endless puppy videos on YouTube.

I've said it before; I'm saying it again. If I survive this, I'm getting a dog.


  1. I wrote this quickly. I wish I had added the following.

    Two Facebook friends began sending me private messages. Every day, day after day, "How are you today? What are you feeling? What are you doing?"

    God bless those two people. They know who they are. If they want to be named, let me know, I will name them.

    one is a woman, one is a man. one is local, one lives in another country.

    God bless both of you.

  2. I know your mail doesn't always arrive, and I'm not 100% sure I have your correct address, but I've sent a mass card.

    1. Karen everyone should be as kind as you.