No one should have their life and death summed up without words. When a dear friend’s death was posted as no more than a birth date and a death date, I mourned the missing words for her.
When someone passes away, there tends to be a typical chain of events that follows. The obituary in the local paper sums their life up in neat sentences. The funeral service offers the opportunity to connect with others who share your grief. You go through the process of learning to live without them.
If death is expected, the blow is blunted. You know it’s coming, even if you still don’t have a clue about how to handle it. When someone dies suddenly, there’s an instant void in your life. The space they once occupied is a hollow reminder of what once was. It takes time and effort to get beyond the shock and reach a point where the memories make you smile instead of cry.
A dear friend of mine passed away recently. I opened the daily obituary page and there was her name with a candle where her photo should be. Our lives had been busy and we had not connected recently. I knew she had health issues but just didn’t expect her to suddenly pass away. I certainly didn’t expect to find out via one sentence containing only her birth date and her death date. No words.
Over the next couple days, I kept opening the obituary section of the newspaper, waiting to see her smiling face in a photo beside an obituary that told people who she was. The photo never appeared. Nor did the obituary. My friend’s funeral service was a private one, for family only. Her death notice was not printed until after she was in the grave.
My first thoughts were not kind ones. This woman had been a good wife, mother, grandmother and co-worker. She loved animals, especially her horses. She could write first drafts that read better than my umpteenth ones. She deserved a shining send off, not a one-liner. Was this how she wanted it? I hope so.
As the days went by and I recalled my friend’s life, her sacrifices came to mind again and again. She gave up her time and her interests for those of her family. As much as I sometimes resented them for using her so, I realized that you can only use a grown woman if she allows you to.
How many of us women allow our identities, our likes, our time, our very lives, to be absorbed so deeply by family or obligations that “we” are lost in the process? Parents, bosses, husbands, children – they’ll take as much from you as they can. They’re human. They are looking out for their interests. Their needs. Their lives.
When a man and woman marry, they are two distinct people making a life together. They do not become one person – they become one family. For women who are nurturing, it is easy to fall into the trap of taking care of everyone else and doing what everyone else wants to do while your own identity is put away somewhere.
I was saddened that my friend gave up both her talent and her dreams regarding that talent. I am sorry she never stood up for herself. I am even more sorry to see how little her family had to say about her at the end. It is my fervent prayer that my daughters, my grand-daughters, and my friends manage to maintain their own identities while dealing with their worlds.
These words are for you, My Dear Departed Friend. You were a beautiful woman, inside and out. You held your own with cranky doctors and stubborn horses. You went above and beyond the call of duty. Often. You introduced me to one of your friends who soon became a friend we shared. You looked great in sweat pants and you really knew how to cook.
I will remember the fun we had in Little Rock. The time spent at your kitchen table. (And mine.) I have no idea why your sendoff was a private one-liner. I’m sure your family had their reasons. You deserved a glowing page. (A page at least twice as long as the one that was written for your MIL.) You were a true southern lady and I can’t wait to stroll through heaven with you. Save me a seat in the library.