Thursday, February 10, 2005

Vicious Cycle

[Warning: This post is kind of a downer. However, a less depressing new post appears just under this one, if you want to just scroll down and skip this one.]

Over the holidays, my best friend from high school called me just to say Hi. I had been unable to make it back to see my family, but he had. He asked me if there was anything I wanted him to get me from the islands. I told him I like those "Men of Hawai'i" calendars that have hot local men in tropical locales around the state. He told me he'd look for one and send it to me.

He IM'd me a week ago. "I never did get you that calendar, did I?" he asked.

"No, you didn't, but 'sokay. I'll just get an eye candy calendar from here," I told him. "Right now my wall is graced by some Chinese chick because some Chinese restaurant threw in a wall calendar last time I was too lazy to cook."

"Well, I'll look for one for you."

Suddenly I realized what he was saying. "You're going back?" I asked. The close proximity between his last visit and this one couldn't possibly bode well.

"Yeah," he replied. "My grandma's still in the hospital, and they don't think she's going to make it much longer."

"I'm so sorry," I responded.

I lose the power of speech when people start talking about death and grieving, because it's never clear what I'm supposed to say. The words which leap to mind always sound like they came out of a Hallmark card (they probably did) and thus sound cliched, forced, and insincere (no matter how sincerely I really mean them). I've been known to decline to sign condolences cards for co-workers whose suffered a loss in the family because I simply don't know what to write, and just signing my name looks retarded.

I tried to comfort him, but I don't do well with death and grieving issues. I think because my family doesn't tend to outwardly show emotion much, I coasted through much of my childhood at least mildly detached from intimate familial connections. We don't express our emotions well; to this day I think it's been a substantial hinderance to my social life, both romantically and otherwise. Besides, it's difficult to comfort someone over IMs.

My friend's family is substantially different from mine. They are outwardly affectionate, including hugs and kisses, joking with each other, and the frequent use of the phrase "I love you." Being in the presence of that family, you can feel the love all around. During the many instances when I would visit after school or on weekends, there was no shortage of supply -- I was accepted as part of the family as much as anyone else.

So when my friend was hurting, I was hurting, even though I never did know his grandmother at all.

Eventually the IM moved on to other, lighter topics, but of course the big looming elephant in the room was the impending death of my friend's grandmother.

He called me today. His voice cracking, he told me that his grandmother had, in fact, passed away this morning. He thought it would be a nice gesture if I sent a card to his parents. Because at some point I had considered them as much my parents as my own biological parents, I knew he was right.

"And you?" I asked. "How are you holding up?"

Which was a stupid question, of course, seeing as he was already audibly on the verge of tears. "Not too well."

"I'm so sorry...." Again, words failed me.

We chatted for a few more minutes before he had to be with his family.

Even though it's all just part of that "circle of life" thingee (what did I saw about the cliches?), it still sucks the pain that death causes, even when the deceased has lived a long and wonderful life.

I'm really lucky that no one all that close to me has passed away in the decades I've existed on this planet, but that day will come. Will I be prepared? I don't know. Will I have made peace with the demons that haunt some of my relationships? Knowing my stupid, stubborn pride, I doubt it.

I wish there were a way to make this all easier -- for my friend, for me when the time comes, for everyone else -- but there isn't one.

And man, this was one rambling post.


Jon said...

Dennis, there isn't much you CAN say in situations like that, other than that your sorry and ask if there's anything that you can do. I shoulder to cry on is better than words, if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

excellent post...though i'm sorry to hear such sadness in it. is there a way you can tell your friend how difficult it is to express your real feelings about his grandmother? he will certainly understand, and maybe that will make it easier next time for you to open up a bit more....good luck to you.

Michael said...

I'm could really relate to what you said. My family sounds like yours ... very unemotional and to the point. Whereas, my best friend's family is all the hug/kiss/love stuff. And I'm envious to a degree.

He has been a huge support for me. More of a brother (or sister LOL) than anyone has ever been to me before -- and it's that relationship alone that has caused me to grow so much.

But I do wonder ... when the time comes when something devestating happens to him ... how do I react? What do I say? What do I do? What does he expect of me? :-\ Stress. LOL.

But ya know. Best friends know. They know each other well enough that intention is there, even if the awkwardness of the moment prohibits comments and even consoling gestures. We all do the best we can. Right?

Dennis! said...

I'm told that usually in times like this you're supposed to offer up some comfort, like maybe going over with a casserole dinner or something. Of course, my friend lives clear across the country from me, so this isn't an option.

Jon, you're right, and all I can do is make myself available if he needs to talk. Which he probably won't.

Christian, I actually don't know his grandmother at all. I'm just sad because my friend is sad, you know? But not knowing how to deal with death and grief issues... well, that's something I'm sure I'll learn eventually. Or I'll just turn into a robot.

Michael, I think you're right. Best friends know. He knows I care, even if I don't have to say it. Unfortunately, that takes my relationship with him the same level as the one I have with my family: lots of love, but all of it assumed. I'm pretty dysfunctional that way.