Waiting on death and other such rituals

I am no expert on death, dying or funerals. I am a Sociologist at heart and curious as all get out about the roots of these practices and the variety across cultures.

A few years back my cousin and I mused about the death and dying rituals of African Americans. I’ve never studied the phenomenon but know the rituals well from first-hand experience. She and I were chastised as her dad, my great uncle was in hospice. We went out to eat one night, another night we went to the movies, by day 10 we had left the hospital during the day and gone off to explore the Mall of the Americas.

Shame on us! We were supposed to sit all day and night with the relatives keeping watch at uncle’s bedside. She, like my mom and I often buck tradition and go with what is respectful, comfortable, and fits who we are. Why were we (and often still are) expected to sit at the bedside and wait….?

This week I’ve been on death-watch, which is highly impractical with a 3.5 year old. Really it is. So….we went to the Children’s Museum…that didn’t make some people too happy. But really? You expect a 3 year old to sit and watch granny fade away. He can only touch her face, sing her a song, and whisper “I love you granny” but a few times. He’s 3 for God’s sake! AND momma needs a break.

In some  cultures, families pay people to do their death-watching and their mourning. That’s sounding good right about now.

Everyone mourns differently. Everyone has a different level of comfort with and tolerance for death and dying. My mom had zero tolerance nor comfort. She missed her dad’s, mom’s and the above mentioned uncle’s funeral. Friends of hers who died earlier in life received cards and flowers, but no visit. No one ever chastised or questioned her. She sat at no one’s bedside. She would have paid someone to do it for her!

So I am sitting. And since I’m sandwiched between death and an energetic 3 year old, I am also not sitting, watching, nor waiting. For no one knows the hour nor the day….who’s the ritual for anyway? I didn’t even get to write about the family arguments over open or closed casaket; burial vs. cremation; or celebration of life or mourning of death….not to mention who’s family plot to bury the dead in. Ive always said thst births, marriages, & deaths cause confusion!

Death & dying rituals have an important place in our society and families AND room should be made to alter such rituals as needed.

Daddy’s Girl

As told to me by a friend, who will remain anonymous, with some liberties taken.

The title is misleading. I am not a daddy’s girl, mainly because I never had a daddy long enough to be his girl. Mom remarried often and I chose not to get close to any daddy. Later in my mom’s life, when she was 50ish, she found the love of her life, her soulmate.

I was older and was happy for her but again, had no intention of getting close to him. He was handsome, kind, loving, and really did seem like mom’s soulmate and life partner. He often took me out on “daddy-daughter” dates, gave me sage advice which I followed, and before I knew it he was walking me down the aisle for my wedding!

Years went by, mom got sick, he had surgeries, we all grew apart and then mom began a slow decline to death. He and I, this man whom I now occasionally referred to as my dad, would spend hours talking about life, and specifically my life. He told me that he knew my mom would have expected more of me. At first I was insulted and hurt. But he explained that I worked too hard, cared too much, and made too little of an investment in myself. He said “You are no longer the pretty, articulate, assertive girl I met. You’ve  become a frazzled, frustrated professional momma and wife.” It was true, but I was still hurt. I thought about this conversation for months, and then did the following (in no particular order):
1. I began journaling my habits and behaviors. I created an amusing columned list – “Healthy,” “Unhealthy,” and “Insane.” I began putting people and behaviors into categories. It gave me great clarity.
2. I created a schedule and budget and after some time (3 months) stuck to both. The schedule and budget included time and money for pampering myself and going out with friends.
3. Assertively (find a book to help you) stated what I wanted, what I was going to do to get it and how I wanted to be helped I obtaining what I wanted. I had once been assertive and somehow once I got married and had kids, ended up being a doormat. My hubby was fine, my kids rebelled.
4. Started treating myself once, then twice a month to a manicure, pedicure, and hair-do…anything that screamed stereotypical femininity. It wasn’t about the service received, it was about taking time to pamper myself and pay attention to me as a woman.
5. Starting saying “no” often to all kinds of requests: PTA, church, husband, friends, family, etc. I very selectively engaged requests, as they did not interfere with me time or family time or add hours to my day, etc.
6. Cleaned the friends list – keeping those friends who did not have more baggage than what could fit in the seats in front of us or in the overhead bin (we all got a little something to tug around). It was tough but so sane after a few weeks.
7.  Created new healthy habits related to eating, exercising, meditation (prayer), speaking, saving, relating. I read a few books on good habits and the habits of successful people and then I followed their advice.

I could go on and on with my list of changes,  but the point is that I heard my mom’s husband and did something about it. I got over my hurt and tapped into the truth of his statements. I got real with myself and let others know how I was changing.

I met him for dinner about 6 months into my changed lifestyle. He greeted me with a huge smile and warm embrace (his usual greeting) and he added “Now that’s a girl a daddy can be proud of.”

Get past anything that reeks of sexism or condescension.  Tap into the fact that we often can’t get over ourselves or see past ourselves to welcome some constructive  critique that may help us live a a better life. At the ripe age of mid – century I’m sane, healthy, and a proud Daddy’s girl.

My thanks to my friend who shared her story with me. Be inspired to change what you need to, not so that you’ll be a daddy’s girl, but so that you’ll be sane, healthy, productive, and at peace….maybe even in love with yourself!