The Heatley Cliff

We Mourn Like Fingerprints

There was a death in the family on my wedding day.

Although I had prayed to the wedding gods concerning several things that could go wrong, this is something I could not have anticipated. When a death happens at the Heatley Cliff, Sher and I wear black. We cover mirrors, we write notes, we receive guests and we take to our beds. There were traditions our ancestors followed, routines and schedules that gave them a structure to the process of their loss. People faced death a lot more often way back when, before chemo and antibiotics and rubber gloves.  I don’t think our great- great- grandparents grieved less keenly, but they certainly had more practice. I have a family photo from a hundred years ago. Everyone in it sports a black armband. There is a part of me that wishes we could revive this tradition that makes so much sense, that tells the world without speaking it out loud: Tread gently, I have just lost someone.

I know that HelloGiggles skews young. As you are reading this, you may have had little or no experience with death. But I am sorry to say, I truly am, that this will not always be the case. Or perhaps you have  lost someone or a friend has experienced a loss and I want to share something with you (being the old broad, comparatively, that I am) as I have, sadly, experience with this.

We mourn like fingerprints. No two people will mourn the same way. And it takes time, quite a bit actually, more than you think, until we can step back, blow it up and see the maze of lines and circles our thoughts followed while we were in the thick of it.

If it is you personally experiencing a loss, it is absolutely okay to be angry. It is not okay to point fingers and blame people around you for not doing more or feeling more or acting how you believe they should. You cannot police the grieving process of those around you. You might want to talk about the person who has just passed nonstop, to anyone who will listen, or you might not want to talk about anything at all. Silence might be your only comfort. You may weep to the point that you don’t think you will ever stop. It could be however, that your eyes remain dry and you may wonder what is wrong with you for not crying. In these circumstances, hold steady – the crying will come eventually when you least expect it, like at the check out line at the grocery store or pumping your gas. You may feel the person you have lost all around you, their spirit lingering, gathering close, easing your pain. Conversely, you might feel their absence absolutely, which might make you question all number of things you thought you believed in like God and the nature of the universe. It is okay to go to bed, to curl up under the covers and block out the world. It is also okay to clean every inch of your house, go through your closets and stock up on provisions at Costco. The body of your loved one knew when to let go and so too will your body know when to lay down your grief and live ,which is what the person you lost would have wanted above all else.

If it is a friend or loved one who has lost someone, you must step forward. Even if the notion of death terrifies you, you must overcome this fear and be there for the person left behind. Perhaps your relationship was more of an acquaintance or  it’s a friend or family member you aren’t especially close to. In this case, a heartfelt sympathy card is the best way to express your support. Yes, an actual card, that you put in the mail. AN EMAIL OR TEXT IS INAPPROPRIATE, regardless of the age we are living in.  If you’re helping someone who is very close to you, the best thing you can do is take your cues from them. Listen. Offer up a great story about the recently passed. Do not compare it to losses of your own. In their mind, nothing compares to the grief they are feeling because it is unique. Be there, on their terms and be quiet, because no matter what the circumstance, there is no way this is about you.

We aren’t talking about nearly anything as heavy this week at The Heatley Cliff. Instead, we’re on more vintage fashion, but as always, and no matter what the circumstance, you are always welcome.

  • Rebecca Foster

    Thank YOU Any for your brilliance is knowing just how to put pen to paper to make me feel better AND to honor my Ron.
    I love you and am oh so very proud of you………..

  • Holly Tibble

    Having just lost a close friend I have been searching for nay words that could really describe how I felt. Thank you.

  • Susy Shumaker Frey

    Thank you so so much for these words of comfort. I just lost my 16 yr old son almost 3 weeks ago…a very blurred 3 weeks ago. Everything is so true and it is even harder when you have 2 daughters and a husband grieving at the same time and everyone in different stages of grieving (along with close aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents.) Yes I would love to wear a black armban so people wouldn’t say inappropriate things to me like complaining how miserable they are because they were up all night with a bad cold. Our son was a very special young man who fought all the odds throughout his life with a smile. Was evident from the over 1,100 (in a town of 6,000) friends and family who went to the visitation and funeral. It was amazing to us all who were touched by him…even a Chinese exchange student who told us Elliot was the first person to welcome him to the school…a boy who I was so afraid that wouldn’t be able to communicate with others due to his hearing impairment and learning disabilities. We can all learn a lesson from him that all we really need is a kind smile and the smallest of gestures to make the world go round. I hope you don’t mind but I am going to post the quote from you about fingerprints because it is so fitting where I am at this point.

  • Mathilde Nayobi

    I am deeply sorry for your loss. I liked your paragraph about how each person mourns in a different way. My dad passed when I was 9 and since then, I have become an adept of sarcasm and black humor. A thing lots of people do not understand: they’re shocked when I joke about it (but I would never allow anyone to joke about it). And when this happens, I always wonder why they’re shocked. They didn’t know him. He wasn’t related to them. I just prefer to make bad jokes than cry in front of them and see feeling sorry for me. This is my way to deal with it and to move on with my life. It doesn’t mean I have a heart of stone.

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