Questions I get asked:
Why didn’t my brother call me to tell me our dad had died?
From today I’m adding something new into my blog. I’ve gotten in the habit of writing every week on a Thursday about whatever has been in my mind that week to write, but from today I’ll also be posting every Monday about a question I have been asked. I find that out of every 2 or 3 people who ask me what I do, 1 or 2 of those, once I’ve told them, will have a story for me, a question or a comment about someone in their life that they have lost or someone they know who has lost someone. And so often after talking to them I think ‘that would make a great blog topic’ – I already have a HUGE list of them – so I’m going to separate them out into their own day. And today’s the day! Obviously there are a lot of questions/comments that clients bring to me but for obvious reasons they can’t be shared here, so questions other people ask me (with their permission) will be.
First on the list is something that was said to me a couple of weeks ago. I went to a private art exhibition where a friend had some paintings on display. And over paintings and free glasses of wine three of us got chatting. It wasn’t long before we all swapped what work we do and when I told…let’s call her Sarah…what I do she told me that she had lost her dad some years ago. She explained a bit about the background and the situation but one thing that really popped out to me was when she mentioned something that had bothered her for years. Something one of her brothers had done. This particular brother was the first to find out that their dad had died and he contacted her to tell her by text message. Even years later Sarah was upset that he hadn’t done the right thing and picked up the phone and called her so that she didn’t have to find out by text that her father had passed away.
What he had done made perfect sense to me and I explained why to Sarah. She looked a bit surprised and said she’d actually never thought about it that way. Here is what I told her:
1) that you can’t expect logic from people when it comes to dealing with death, particularly not of someone close to them. I mean it – no logic whatsoever. People panic, they don’t know what to do, and they can do some odd/crazy/inappropriate things. When my dad died I arrived back in NZ to find that Mum had already taken to calling all of the family and breaking the bad news to them. That would all be fine….except this is how she was doing it – family members were either getting phone calls or voicemails (yes, voicemails) that went like this: “Kath, it’s me. Ian has dropped dead”. Imagine coming out of a movie or a meeting, checking your voicemail, and finding THAT! I immediately took over phone duty so no-one else had to go through that experience. I don’t remember anyone getting upset at my mum and I don’t know if anyone has held this against her, but this would have been pointless as she really just didn’t know what to do. She certainly didn’t intend to hurt or shock anyone. But she was in a new, scary, devastating, and confusing situation and was just doing what she could think of to do.
2)The second thing I pointed out was that maybe Sarah’s brother simply couldn’t bear to say the words out loud yet. Saying the name of someone you love and using the word ‘dead’ or some variation of it in the same sentence can be incredibly difficult. Yes, whether you say it or not it has happened, but for some people it makes what has just happened more real and the first few (or many) times you say it can be very, very rough on you. Maybe Sarah’s brother wasn’t ok to let those words and that reality come out of his mouth yet and a text was easier. He probably wasn’t thinking exactly these thoughts consciously at the time (refer to point 1 above) but I’ll bet that was what was going on.
One thing I didn’t mention to her (but I know she’ll be reading this blog as she’s asked me to send her the link) was that maybe receiving a text wasn’t the worst thing in the world. It gives you a little time to digest what you’ve been told privately without having to talk to someone else or discuss what has happened. Even if it just gives you a minute before you have to say the words yourself or hear them out loud this might sometimes be a bit easier.
We talk about politics and war (well, some people do) and strife in the world but I think families are where it all really goes on. We can hold more against our parents and siblings than against most other people in our lives, partly because we’ve just been around them so darn long. When you’re dealing with the death of someone close to it’s really important to remember to be kind to yourself, but also try to remember to extend this to your family as well. You’re all in the same boat here and though people’s reactions may be wildly different from your own, and not at all what you expect or think they should be doing, it’s all coming from the same place. Just because it’s the same boat doesn’t mean you’ll all have the same paddling style. Just don’t expect people to behave the same way you do. They aren’t you so they won’t think and act like you. They will have a very good reason for doing whatever they are doing and just because you don’t understand their words and actions it doesn’t mean they don’t make perfect sense.
Stay tuned for next Monday because I think I’ll answer the question I get asked ALL the time: what’s the right thing to say to a friend who has lost someone.