Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Death of My BFF's Father

I'm at that age now where the parents of my childhood friends are reaching the ends of their lives. My BFF's dear father's wake was on Friday; as if that day wasn't already the worst day ever. He had been ill for a long time, the kidney transplants ultimately didn't work. There were at least three occasions this fall where his hospice nurses told his wife, "This is probably his last day of life." He was sent home twice, but he kept bouncing back. He truly wanted to live. The medical bills piled up. The insurance companies were assholes. His wife quit her job to care for him full time. They were best friends, and had such a strong, fun 34-year-long marriage.

Now that he's gone, we're extremely concerned for her, both emotionally and financially. She's showing signs of going through the grief process: Denial, Anger... it's healthy. The anger piece has been oddly healing for my friend and her siblings. Her mom did not refrain from calling a few relatives out on their bullshit. Perhaps "bullshit" is too mild a word for the dynamic in her mom's family-of-origin. For example, mom's sister and her 5 kids spent the week before the wedding funeral (edit: wow-Freudian slip there big time...) eating and drinking her out of house and home - as if a new widow's home is some all-you-can-eat buffet. How galling. You're supposed to show up with food, and you certainly don't help yourself to it. You eat before you go. They're all pretty sure mom's sister's 15-year-old son who was recently expelled from school probably stole a bunch of cash from my BFF's mom's purse. At least he didn't steal the checks that were in there with the cash. Good times.

I was devastated that I could not fly out for the funeral, so I asked my parents to attend the wake on my behalf. They said it was lovely. My BFF's mom was really happy they came. Well-attended wakes and funerals seem to be a real source of comfort to the surviving family.

I also broke out my old school (circa 1982) Miss Manners Etiquette book because it's been ages since I've written a note of sympathy. I didn't know that "sympathy cards" with the condolence sentiment pre-printed on them are a faux pas. Glad I checked before I went to the store. The correct way is to write a personal, heartfelt note on your own stationery. It makes sense - that's what I suppose I'd rather receive on one of the worst days of my life.

My own parents' eventual deaths are amongst my greatest fears. I try to be Zen about it. I try to channel my recollections of how a Buddhist master might consider it, something like this.


nicoleandmaggie said...

How dreadful for your friend and her family. My condolences.

Got It, Ma! said...

So sad, and how awful for her that her mother had to cope with difficult relatives on top of everything. It really is true that weddings and funerals bring out the worst in some people.

Zen doesn't come terribly easily to me, but having lost my father many, many years ago I definitely cherish having my mom around and often think how lucky I am.

Thanks for the tip on sympathy notes. They are always so hard to write. Wishing you and your friend comfort.

hush said...

@nicoleandmaggie - Thank you.

@Got It, Ma! - I'm sorry to hear you lost your own dad when you were very young. Thanks for the kind words.