Author Topic: a toddler's wake  (Read 389 times)

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Offline Quesi

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a toddler's wake
« on: October 15, 2013, 06:49:19 PM »
This evening I went to a wake for a precious three year old little girl.  She was the daughter of a colleague, who died in a tragic traffic accident. 

I walked past the flowers, and the display with her toys and her beautiful little dress-up clothes.  Then I passed by the open casket of a tiny little girl, dressed in a pink down jacket and a feathery crown.  I then progressed to the spot where her parents were receiving the guests.

I hugged her mom, tears streaming down my face, and said "I'm so sorry."  I wished I had rehearsed something more profound to say. 

Images of my own seven year old daughter, and all of the amazing things that had happened in her life since she was three, rushed through my mind.  All of the things that this precious, loved little girl would never experience.   

Her mom said "She's in a better place." 

Startled, I said "What?". 

And her mom said "She's in a better place.  No pain.  No suffering." 

And I said "Yes." 

Because I could think of nothing else to say. 

Offline wright

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Re: a toddler's wake
« Reply #1 on: October 15, 2013, 07:49:13 PM »
So sorry for your colleague's loss, Quesi.

I've managed to find appropriate words for the death of adult relatives and acquaintances. I don't think I could find words for the death of a child; at the very least I would need some preparation and familiarity with the survivors to think of something I'd consider adequate.

You weren't there to give a speech, you were there to give what support you could. In the face of such loss, I think you did pretty well.

Live a good life... If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones. I am not afraid.
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Offline Graybeard

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Re: a toddler's wake
« Reply #2 on: October 15, 2013, 08:08:55 PM »
Her mom said "She's in a better place." 

Startled, I said "What?". 

And her mom said "She's in a better place.  No pain.  No suffering." 

And I said "Yes." 

Because I could think of nothing else to say.
There are only two responses possible: the one you gave and the Westboro answer: "I don't think so, she was too young to accept Christ and therefore is with Satan."

Had the speaker been some sort of animist or adherent to a weird religion, the response is always the same: it is the one you gave. Funerals are not the time for anything other than sympathy that is absolute towards the grieving.
Nobody says “There are many things that we thought were natural processes, but now know that a god did them.”

Offline Nam

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Re: a toddler's wake
« Reply #3 on: October 16, 2013, 12:27:14 AM »
"What?" seems like a cold response, in my opinion. You're now probably thinking, "You're one to talk, Nam." but that's my point; however, if someone responded the way the mother did, "What?" wouldn't be my personal response, I'd either not respond or tell a lie for comfort of the mother.

I realize this hits home for you thinking of your child but what if it were your child, someone said something questioning what you stated, would you not find their response "cold", as well? I think you would.

-Nam
This thread is about lab-grown dicks, not some mincy, old, British poof of an actor. 

Let's get back on topic, please.


Offline Quesi

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Re: a toddler's wake
« Reply #4 on: October 16, 2013, 07:00:51 AM »
Nam, you are right.  The "what?" was bad.  It was not my intention.  I genuinely did not understand what she had said at first.

The family is actually Buddhist.  I had tried to prepare.  Interrogated a Buddhist dad at the bus stop in the morning.  Were the black sequins on the collar of my black blouse ok?  Were the hounds tooth pants ok? Or should I go home and change into solid black?  The bus-stop dad seemed to think my concerns were trivial, and said that the most important thing was to feel with my heart.

I didn't know the little girl well.  I work with her mom.  On weekends, I occasionally ran into the family at the local science museum, and we exchanged greetings as we shuffled our respective kids between the ant farm and the Mars rover.  We are Facebook friends as well, and we frequently "like" pictures of each others' children doing adorable things, and we "like" each others' linked articles about the Common Core Standards and various issues of importance to the community.

They had just moved out of their urban apartment into a suburban house with a lawn and a good school district, just in time for the big boy to start kindergarten.  In August, they took a last minute road trip to Pennsylvania, to bring the kids to the aquarium and to see horses and whatnot.  I covered for her on a project we were working on together, so she could have this time with her family.  But they came home early because one of the kids, (I forget which one) got an ear infection. 

I really like this family.  This beautiful little girl was growing up in a loving home, with parents who were so invested in her happiness and her well-being. 

I've wept for days since the accident.  This was not the reality that they deserved. 

I wanted to do the right thing at the wake.  I considered bowing, but then decided that there were so many protocols about bowing that I did not understand, and the parents are younger than I am, and I didn't want to make a mistake or do something that seemed really unnatural and false. The majority of non-family members at the wake were Christian or Jewish I assume.  A Muslim guy from the IT department had taken the day off work to spend Eid with his family, but he showed up as well to pay his respects. 

There were pleasant recorded chants playing unobtrusively over a speaker system, and a monk was in a corner of the room burning pieces of paper.  Some attendees made the sign of the cross on their foreheads and chests as they waked by the open casket.  Elderly Asian ladies pressed their palms together, elbows extended, and bowed to a small altar that displayed some flowers and a folded cloth and other random items whose symbolism I did not understand.   In the polyglot of our community, any heartfelt gesture seemed appropriate.   

I wanted to do the right thing. 
     

Offline Quesi

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Re: a toddler's wake
« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2013, 01:58:03 PM »
I could have said, "You filled her life with joy."

Those would have been simple, honest words, spoken from my heart.  But I didn't. 

Offline wright

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Re: a toddler's wake
« Reply #6 on: October 16, 2013, 02:09:40 PM »
I could have said, "You filled her life with joy."

Those would have been simple, honest words, spoken from my heart.  But I didn't. 

I hope you don't cultivate regret and guilt over this. As you said, you didn't know the family well. Did they, have they given any indication that your response was seen as lacking? If not, then you shouldn't indulge too much in "the spirit of the staircase", as the French put it.

Your empathy as an acquaintance and mother are understandable, even expected by most people in that situation, I would think. But don't keep beating yourself up for failing to come up with appropriate words that are realized only in hindsight. As you said, you tried to prepare but (presumably) found the reality of the wake overwhelming. Again, a completely normal reaction.
Live a good life... If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones. I am not afraid.
--Marcus Aurelius

Offline William

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Re: a toddler's wake
« Reply #7 on: October 16, 2013, 02:10:43 PM »
I've wept for days since the accident.  This was not the reality that they deserved.

Quesi that's not what you deserve either.   Make contact with them now and do something for/with them.

Most people stay well away from the bereaved - to avoid more awkward moments - till they think enough time has passed for the death to be ignored or at least kept out of the conversation.  But NOW is the time they need comfort and support more than ever.

Go to them now (find any excuse) and show that you care - even if to say you don't know what to say but that you care.  They will remember that kindness and support for the rest of their lives, far beyond any trite mumbo jumbo they heard from anybody at the wake.
Git mit uns

Offline Quesi

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Re: a toddler's wake
« Reply #8 on: October 16, 2013, 02:40:00 PM »

I hope you don't cultivate regret and guilt over this. As you said, you didn't know the family well. Did they, have they given any indication that your response was seen as lacking?

And yeah, I have cultivated regret and guilt over this.  But no, there was no indication of anything but numbness from the family.  My guilt is my own.

I like to fix things.  I like to solve problems and make things better.  The death of a beautiful child is something I can't fix or make better or resolve.  And then I didn't say what I could have said, and ended up being awkward and dishonest.  I am sure that no one noticed but me, and that for the family, the whole wake was a blur.  But I wish I had been honest. I am very rarely not honest.       


Quesi that's not what you deserve either.   Make contact with them now and do something for/with them.   

Most people stay well away from the bereaved - to avoid more awkward moments - till they think enough time has passed for the death to be ignored or at least kept out of the conversation.  But NOW is the time they need comfort and support more than ever.


Thanks.  Right now, I am covering a lot of the mom's responsibilities at work.  She and I have a project that we jointly oversee, and I have taken on full responsibility for the time being. 

When she is ready to come back to work, I will make sure that she is as busy as she wants to be, or as lax as she wants to be in terms of this project. 

When she comes back, I'll take her out to lunch (or maybe drinks) to talk and catch up on what has been going on in her absence.  She's missing a quarterly report and an annual report and an upcoming audit.  And some programmatic changes. 

We'll talk about work, and then, as always, our conversation will drift to family.  The conversations will be different.  I'll ask about her son.  I'll be careful not to brag about my daughter's most recent milestones. I'll let her talk, and I'll listen.  Ask questions.  Probably cry a bit.  And when she needs to be distracted by work, then I'll help shift the topic back there.

But yeah.  That is the time that I will be able to say the she brought so much joy into her daughter's life.


Offline bertatberts

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Re: a toddler's wake
« Reply #9 on: October 17, 2013, 04:12:02 AM »
Quesi

I can relate to this from both sides, My little brother of three also died in a freak accident, I was ten so it hit me also, he was so much fun.

My mother who was never religious, got told by someone "he is in a better place" my mum ripped him new one in no uncertain terms. She was always a bit fiery especially when she felt people were being rude or nasty to us kids.

We children tried to console her but it was a long time before she was able to be mum again. 
I don't mean she ignored us, just that it changed her for a time. Like it was always on her mind.
 
Anyhow the best you can do is be a friend, don't avoid the subject deliberately, that will appear false and she will know. If she wants to confide then do so. And don't be afraid to talk openly it's the best thing you can do.
We theists have no evidence for our beliefs. So no amount of rational evidence will dissuade us from those beliefs. - JCisall

It would be pretty piss poor brainwashing, if the victims knew they were brainwashed, wouldn't it? - Screwtape. 04/12/12

Offline Quesi

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Re: a toddler's wake
« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2013, 08:19:04 AM »
Bertatberts-

I am so sorry about the death of your little brother.  I'm sure the impact on your family, and your childhood, was huge. 

Offline bertatberts

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Re: a toddler's wake
« Reply #11 on: October 18, 2013, 08:42:12 AM »
Thanks Quesi.

It was a long time ago now but still seems fresh. We had three glorious years with him, so there is that to be thankful for.

Mum had three more children after him. Though several years later. All girls.
 
 
We theists have no evidence for our beliefs. So no amount of rational evidence will dissuade us from those beliefs. - JCisall

It would be pretty piss poor brainwashing, if the victims knew they were brainwashed, wouldn't it? - Screwtape. 04/12/12