Home

The List I’m Not Making

Comments Off on The List I’m Not Making

First things First:

Happy 26th bday to son K!

 “K” and his cat, “Tootsie,” a few years back  [1]

You both look a lot younger, eh?

 

*   *   *

Department Of Well Which Is It?

Dateline: Monday 6:45 am. My personal, non-cellular, weather forecast app – opening the front door and sticking my nose outside – is not encouraging.  Seeking confirmation, I check my phone’s weather apps before going for a morning walk. Willy Weather says the temp is 27˚ F but “feels like 17˚ F;AccuWeather says 22˚F but RealFeel ® is 29˚ F.

 

 

How’s about an app that says, Yep, it’s like, Brrrrrrrrr….

 

*   *   *

Department Of I Suppose I Could Have Just Said Thank You

This summer it will have been twenty two years ago that our friend GJ died in a motorcycle accident. GJ left behind a brokenhearted husband and their five bereft children, and numerous grieving friends, family, neighbors, students,  [2]  and colleagues.

The day we learned of her death I did not want to leave the house and certainly had no desire to speak with strangers, but I had two pressing/related tasks to accomplish that evening. After errand #1 my car “blew up” (translation: the battery had a mini explosion when I turned the key in the ignition).

Not a good night, to say the least.

MH came to rescue me; we traded cars and he called AAA for an emergency battery replacement while I attended to task #2, which involved purchasing…something related to the fulfillment of task #1 at a Target-like store.  [3]  After I made my purchase the store’s clerk, a somnolent young woman seemingly operating on autopilot, handed me my item and receipt. In a voice that indicated she was giving an instruction rather than a wish or a suggestion, she told me to Have a nice day.

I took two steps toward the exit door, turned around and said,
“You know, that’s just not gonna happen.

I’ve often thought back on that incident; specifically, wondering what the clerk must have thought about my reply.  [4]  She, of course, had no way of knowing what was going on in my head – no way of understanding that I would take her robotic, store-policy mandated departure phrase as a slap in the face of my sorrow.

 

*   *   *

Department Of This Is Related To That

Many is the time I’ve seen the various “list“ headlines on Facebook postings, and several times I’ve perused a few of the lists. You might be familiar with them: They take a usually well-meaning – if sometimes vaguely grouchy, know-it-all and/or punitive – tone on advising on how not to be insensitive to people dealing with certain conditions or afflictions:

*What Not To Say To A Pregnant Woman

*What Not To Say To A Person Living With Clinical Depression

*What Not To Say To Parents Of A Stillborn Infant

*What Not To Say To…

– Someone Living With Parkinson’s Disease…A Rape Victim…A Recovering Addict…A Cancer Survivor…Trump Supporters And Others with Cognitive Deficits…

 

 

 

These lists are often compiled by people who’ve had the jaw-clenching experience of being on the wrong end of “well-meaning but clueless”comments and questions about their circumstances, from total strangers to their should-know-better family members.

Regular readers of this blog may recall that several times during the past five weeks I have written in this space about the recent murder of the adult child of my beloved friends. Acquaintances and friends whom I haven’t seen since I received that devastating news have extended the customary inquiry/greeting when they encounter me: Hey, how are you doing – what’s been going on in your life? In some cases I have resisted telling the truth, resorting to the standard American  [5]  brush-off (Fine, thanks, how about you?). Other times I have felt like an open wound and blurt it out – to both friends and strangers (like the clerk at the Subaru Service center – so sorry, dude)…usually prefacing it with a joking, Am I ever gonna make you feel bad for asking!

Early last week I had two days in a row where, at the end of the day, I realized, Hey my first thought upon waking up this morning was not about ______’s death.  [6]  Then came a setback, also two days in a row.  First on Tuesday and then Wednesday, in separate incidents involving people with whom I have longstanding warm and friendly if professional relationships, I was asked about what was going on in my life.  In each case, the askers also remarked that I seemed somewhat…”subdued?  Down?  Sad?”

I responded with a Reader’s Digest condensed version of what had been occupying my thoughts since the end of January. The askers’ heartfelt expressions of shock and dismay and extensions of condolences on behalf of myself and my friends were comforting to me. They also each proceeded to share horrific stories of the deaths of someone they knew: in one case the suicide of the child of a friend, and in the other, a grandfather and an aunt slain by a mutual acquaintance.

 

 

 

 

My thoughts, not at the time but soon afterward:  Uh…thanks for adding those dreadful images to the ones already in my brain!

Department Of The List I Am Making:

What Not To Say To People After Someone They Loved Has Been Murdered

Here’s the thing: I am not making that list. Because I understand what they tried to do.

I surprised moiself by my reaction, when I realized that although I really could have done without hearing those stories I was not holding ill-will toward the people who told them. They are both kind and compassionate people; I truly felt their concern on my behalf. They were not engaging in Catastrophe One-Upmanship ® (as in, “my tragedy is bigger than yours”).  [7]  Rather, IMHO both of those incidents sprang from all-too-human, sincere attempts at showing me that they understood what it’s like to deal with such heartbreak.

I have been trying to read everything I can stand to read on the subject of bereavement and grief experienced by families of murder victims (one of the better sources, if you’re interested, is A Grief Like No Other).    A common experience reported by the families is that people start avoiding them, or talk obliquely around them and never refer to the situation or their lost loved one, and this hurts the family.  These avoiders don’t mean to compound the families’ grief – they  are so very afraid of “saying the wrong thing“and thereby adding to it that they can’t think of anything to say at all, and don’t take (what they see as) the risk of expressing themselves.

This experience – responding to and caring for friends and family who’ve lost loved ones via murder – is…beyond awkward, to drastically understate it. Most of us never got the memo, so to speak, of how to respond in such circumstances.

What can I speak about, when it involves the unspeakable? Anything I can say might just add to the families’ burden… so I will just not say anything.

And what happens to your relationships with those to whom you fear saying anything substantive? What happens with people when you feel you are unable to talk about the most important issues in their lives? You may start avoiding them, due in large part to your own discomfort.

So, while I was not pleased to have more disturbing stories and images added to my mental file cabinet, I understand the intentions.  And the sharing of both stories served as a powerful illustration of what I’ve been reading: of how homicidal violence has lingering (and in most cases, lifelong) repercussions, affecting people outside the immediate families of the victims. It was obvious that, years after the they incidents recalled to moiself, those two people’s lives were forever altered. And, in both cases, they went on to discuss with moiself the sad fact that there are a growing number of people in this country, across all walks of life, whose strongest (or perhaps only) thing in common is that their lives have been fractured by homicidal violence. Each in their own way, those two people were trying to reassure me that my friend’s family is – and that I am – not alone in this.

 

 

 

 

In the case of the person whose aunt and grandfather were killed, I found myself thinking, It’s like an IED of homicide detonated near her family. Those who survived the explosion are “whole” now, their external injuries long healed, but they carry reminders that most outsiders will never see – pieces of mental and emotional shrapnel remain embedded in their minds and hearts.

So, what’s on the list I’m not making? Nothing…except for the suggestion to keep in mind that you never know.  This is neither new nor profound, but it stands the test of time: try to give people the benefit of doubt. Any person you encounter, from your BFF   [8]  to the stranger on the street – you never fully know what that person is dealing with. The guy who snapped at you seemingly out of nowhere?  He may have just found out that his best friend/twin brother was killed by a stray bullet fired during a convenience story robbery.  Snapper Guy may be having one of The Worst Days Of His Life ®….[9] and you just happened to be in the vicinity.

*   *   *

May you never be so consumed with fear about saying the wrong thing
that you neglect to say anything;
May you stop saying Have a nice day unless you really mean it;
May you not need to consult a list to remember that you should never
ask a “pregnant-looking” woman if she is pregnant;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] So named because she is a polydactyl…and she, like K, is still with us (she’s almost 16 years old).

[2] GJ was an elementary school teacher.

[3] Something about a committee I was serving on. To this day, although the specific moiself-clerk is burned in my brain, I cannot remember what those pressing tasks were, nor what store I went to.

[4] Other than, “Cranky bitch!”

[5] Several times when traveling in Europe and enjoying a discussion with the locals re cultural differences, I’ve had the natives ask me about one of their pet peeves: why it is that Americans use the phrase “How are you?” as a greeting, and not as an evident (to the European mind) inquiry as to their welfare?  When they (the Europeans) take it as a sincere question and actually begin to say how they are doing, the asker seems annoyed. “If they are not really interested in how I am, why did they ask? Can’t they just say, “Hello?”

[6] Ah, but then of course it obviously was one of my last thoughts of the day.

[7] which is a real and really disturbing phenomenon, common to the narcissistic personality.

[8] I really, really hate that acronym. Pretend I didn’t use it.

[9] I can of course only speak for myself regarding the death of ___, and I realize that the sense of loss I am experiencing is peanuts compared to her family’s devastation. And I’m sorry if you who are reading this have a peanut allergy, but I’m sticking with this metaphor.

The Life I’m Not Mourning

1 Comment

I hate it, beginning a blog post – or any kind of statement – with a lie. It’s a lie because I am mourning, even as I find the term inadequate to describe the feelings experienced by those of us who loved a remarkable young woman whose life was recently and unexpectedly cut short.

Wednesday (1/30) morning, just before 7 am. The bright, sliver-moon’s optimism, portending the sunny/crisp winter day to come, taunted me with its optimism. A mere two days earlier I would have celebrated such a sight; instead, I felt resentful, then foolish, to recognize my emotions (It’s just a moon; it doesn’t know, or care about, your pain).  As all emotions have done in the past week, everything quickly faded to numb. It was 26˚ outside, but that’s not what chilled me.

 

 

 

When you answer the phone call and hear the voice of your dearly loved friend – her tone at once agitated and lifeless – you realized that the nightmare into which you are about to descend is no dream.

In the days and weeks right after a murder the victim’s family is often in a state of shock, feeling numb, sometimes unable to cry. The murder of a loved one seems almost impossible to comprehend. Life feels unreal, like a dream. Survivors may need to go over the details of the crime again and again, discussing them endlessly, as though trying to put together the pieces of a puzzle, struggling to make sense of it all. They tell themselves, “This can’t be true.”
(“A Grief Like No Other,” The Atlantic, September 1997

Dateline: Monday, 1/28/19, 10:05 am. As I was reaching to turn off my cellphone for yoga class, I received a call, which I answered. It was my friend, LPH. She and her husband DH had been visited that morning by local  [1]  police, and a police chaplain. Those public servants were carrying a devastating message from police in Salt Lake City, where LPH’s and DH’s 27 year old daughter, SEH, was in her first year of medical residency:

At approximately 8:30 the previous evening SEH had been shot and killed by her boyfriend,  [2]  who then took his own life.

*   *   *

 

domestic
adjective

Definition of domestic

1a : living near or about human habitations (“domestic vermin”)

b : tame, domesticated (“the domestic cat”)

2 : of, relating to, or originating within a country and especially one’s own country (“domestic politics, “domestic wines,” “domestic manufacturing,” “all debts foreign and domestic”)

3 : of or relating to the household or the family (“domestic chores,” “domestic happiness”)

4 : devoted to home duties and pleasures (“leading a quietly domestic life”)

5 : indigenous (“a domestic species”)

 

In the news reports  [3] I read the familiar phrases, such as “domestic violence” and “domestic-related” homicide.   I understand the etiology of those terms, as per domestic’s definitions and usages.  Still, I fucking hate them.

 

*   *   *

SEH will be remembered as an extraordinarily engaged and competent and empathetic person at UC-SF.
She really stood out for her commitment to taking care of patients from the time they were born until the time they died. And she was so excited about going to (the University of) Utah. She thought the program there was exactly the type of family medicine program that was going to launch her career to help her be the type of doctor she really wanted to be.
SEH had an easygoing way about her and instantly connected with everyone regardless of where they came from or who they know or what they were there for. And that was true not only for her patients but for her friends.
(The vice dean of education at the UC-San Francisco’s School of Medicine, where SEH received her M.D.., as quoted in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune)

 

Today, University of Utah mourns the tragic loss of one of our bright young family medicine residents, SEH, MD.
Dr. SEH was a first-year resident who was focusing on continuing her studies in Family & Preventive Medicine.
Dr. SEH came to University of Utah Health from UC San Francisco to continue her passion of providing care to women and children in underserved communities. …Her adventurous spirit and love of learning will be missed by all those who knew her….. Dr. SEH always did a great job of connecting with her patients and understanding where they were coming from. She treated the whole person, and patients were always appreciative of her approach….
 SEH made it a priority to stay in touch with her family, constantly talking about them and always mentioning her love of family. At the same time, she was excited about the opportunities Utah offered to her, particularly the ability to spend time doing all the outdoor activities she loved so much. SEH was friendly, fantastic, and hardworking. She always gave everything her all.”
(statement from the University of Utah, as per a  KUTVchannel 2 report)

 

As a mutual friend said, ” It’s devastating that someone…could extinguish a light as bright as hers.”

 

*   *   *

During the past twenty-five years hundreds of articles in psychiatric journals have examined the homicidal mind. Fewer than a dozen have explored how a homicide affects the victim’s family.

The survivors of murder victims…even the counselors who work with survivors…what they have learned contradicts the way the rest of us would like to view the world. We want to maintain an illusion of safety…we want to believe that the children of good parents will never be harmed.

The grief caused by murder does not follow a predictable course. It does not neatly unfold in stages. When a person dies after a long illness, the family has time to prepare emotionally for the death, to feel an anticipatory grief. When someone is murdered, the death usually comes without warning…. 

In the days and weeks right after a murder the victim’s family is often in a state of shock, feeling numb, sometimes unable to cry. The murder of a loved one seems almost impossible to comprehend. Life feels unreal, like a dream. Survivors may need to go over the details of the crime…discussing them endlessly, as though trying to put together the pieces of a puzzle, struggling to make sense of it all. They tell themselves, “This can’t be true.”

(excerpts from “A Grief Like No Other,” Eric Schlosser, The Atlantic) 

“A Grief Like No Other” is a long article, weaving several strands into the larger garment covering the topic of the emotional journeys of families of murder victims. These strands include a “history of murder” (a relatively brief – considering the subject – tour of the history of adjudicating murder, and how societies’ treatments of such went from clan/tribal retribution to modern criminal justice systems) and the exploitation of murder by the entertainment industry, interspersed with sketches of the families who attend the support group POMC (Parents of Murdered Children), and a detailed recount of the aftermath experienced by one murder victim’s family.

These strands are interesting on their own, but that’s not why I am recommending that you read this article,  [4]  which was recommended to me via a network of friends…which provides a convenient segue as to my recommendation.  As the article states, A murder is an unnatural death; no ordinary rules apply. Thus, we who love our friends who have lost their loved one via murder need to be reminded, now and in the times to come, of the differences inherent in loss for those who have experienced the unspeakable.

Skim/skip the afore-mentioned “strand” parts of the article if you like, but please, read carefully – and, I would recommend,  [5]  often (to the point of setting whatever calendar reminders you use to do so in a regular basis) – the parts of the article which deal with the unique trauma and adjustments experienced by parents of murdered children.  It will not be the feel-good read of your week; still, nothing in your discomfort will compare to that experienced by the family, and the article may come close in helping you to understand what your friends are and will be going through.

 

*   *   *

 

Instructions

When I have moved beyond you in the adventure of life,
Gather in some pleasant place and there remember me
With spoken words, old and new.
Let a tear if you will, but let a smile come quickly
For I have loved the laughter of life.
Do not linger too long with your solemnities.
Go eat and talk, and when you can;
Follow a woodland trail, climb a high mountain,
Walk along the wild seashore,
Chew the thoughts of some book
Which challenges your soul.
Use your hands some bright day
To make a thing of beauty
Or to lift someone’s heavy load.
Though you mention not my name,
Though no thought of me crosses your mind,
I shall be with you,
For these have been the realities of my life for me.
And when you face some crisis with anguish.
When you walk alone with courage,
When you choose your path of right,
I shall be very close to you.
I have followed the valleys,
I have climbed the heights of life.

(poem by Arnold Crompton, Humanist educator)

*   *   *

 

 

May you love ’em while you got ’em;
May we all be each other’s “keepers;”
May you be awed and humbled by the wonder and ultimate transience of our lives;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] They live in the Bay Area.

[2] Whose name shall never, ever, be mentioned in this space.

[3] Which I searched for online. The story was picked up nationwide as a blurb, from the local (Utah) newspapers and TV news to The Washington Times and, holy crap, even People magazine online.

[4] Which was recommended to me, via friends MM and SM, who are also members of that (now) sad company of those who know and love SEH’s family.

[5] Because, as the article states, in such “unnatural” deaths, the ordinary rules do not apply. Even if we are not conscious of it, we all have some idea of how to do “ordinary” grieving. This is not to diminish our “ordinary” losses which can seem extraordinarily difficult at the time – e.g., the deaths of my elderly parents. Rather, the loss of a child by homicidal violence is (psychologically and physically proven to be) a very, very, different ordeal for the family, and most of us have no experience with that reality.