The death of an acquaintance dilemma
Like everyone else, I have buried loved ones. Stood by an open grave watching a coffin (horrible word) being lowered into a dug-to-measure hole, struggling against a sense of missing so all consuming I could hardly breathe. And I’ve stood helplessly by as a coffin glides into crematorium oblivion, vividly imagining the flames of finality that will mark the end of a mutual era.
These experiences have all been at funerals for family and friends. A fundamentally subdued celebration of someone I loved or, at the very least, was extremely fond. A chance to say farewell involving reasonably predictable emotions and reactions based on my relationship with that person and, let’s face it, a preconceived notion of how life will be without them. I know how I feel. And why.
No, what I find infinitely more tricky, is handling the death of acquaintances: that broad band of people we have met on several cordial occasions, know well enough to name their partners, children and dog, but with whom there was no natural progression to real friendship.
For starters, these are the deaths that take us by shocking surprise. We know when family members or friends are dangerously sick so, barring accidents, their deaths are seldom entirely unexpected. A shock, yes, but not normally out of the blue.
Secondly, news of the demise of an acquaintance is always third-hand. This in itself opens a floodgate of knee-jerk questions, some of which cannot reasonably be asked: When? How did he die? How old was she? How are their wife/husband/children doing? Followed by the more personaI and embarrassingly narcissistic thought; how old was she in relation to me? i.e. could this happen to me too? And as often as not, the answer is yes.
Now, I don’t believe I am afraid to die. But I am very afraid of leaving my children before they are settled into adult lives and of the impact my death might have on them. And with no raw emotions to numb the knock-on thought process now in full swing, the death of an acquaintance niggles at the back of my mind for weeks as I am once again reminded of the unpredictability of life. I find myself stocking up on vitamin supplements, taking greater care when crossing roads, walking down icy steps etc. All in a bid to avoid an untimely death until the unease wears off and life returns to normal.
But the third and most importance difference between the death of a close friend and the death of a family acquaintance is the funeral dilemma. To attend or not to attend.
Are we close enough to be welcome, or would it seem weird and pushy if we were to slip into a pew and pay our respects? And if we do attend, should we (as is the Swedish custom) place a rose on the coffin or keep a lower profile? Or does the family of the deceased expect us to attend and would be hurt if we don’t? Or are we totally over-thinking this, and the family are far too upset to give a thought or even a damn either way about what we choose to do? Which leads us back to…
I shall be attending a funeral this week for a gentleman with annoyingly firm opinions and a good heart. He lived with his gracious lady up the path from us in the summer and our dogs liked to play together. He wasn’t afraid of hard work and was willing to help. This is pretty much all I know about him. But it’s enough to miss him this summer.
I hope attending his funeral is the right thing to do.
Because the last thing anybody wants to do, is do the wrong thing at another family’s funeral.