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Penny’s Ground-Rules for Grief

I owe no one an explanation regarding how I choose to grieve death. Apparently, this declaration is debatable. It seems the older we grow, the more the world wants to dictate our emotional process. At times, it seems to be a nudging – no a force – to follow an expected pattern, cultural tradition, or code of conduct that has origins you can’t trace, but if you step outside of the boundaries of any of the aforementioned, the rules become abundantly clear.  Me and death will never be at peace with one another. I’m not as “moved” by the finite ending of life as I am by the process of burial. The disposing of bodies. Morgues. Funeral homes. Cemetaries. Organ music. Amazing Grace sung in a falsetto so high dogs want to howl, but out of respect, they simply tuck their tails and moan. I don’t like funerals. Is this my right? I mean, really? It’s a rhetorical question. At the age of 51-years-old, am I allowed to both admit and write that I despise funeral services?

Cremate me. This is the longterm directive I’ve given to my daughter. Hearses. Wakes. Bad photos placed front and center on programs. Obituaries. Crowds. Crying. Moaning. Hollerin’. Weepin’. Laughing [never]. We living people work to soften the blow with euphemisms of hope like: “Home Going Celebrations.” I  just choose to stay home. No one I’ve never known well has ever died and then been pissed because I didn’t show up to watch them lay lateral and stiff wearing clothing they’d never be caught alive in. I’m certain of this. My commentary may sound disrespectful, but my intent is sincere.

That’s another thing: if I don’t show up to pay my respects, it’s disrespectful? Funerals are for the living. If I know you, love you, and care that you’ve died, there have been enough memories of goodwill and smiles and laughs and heartfelt exchanges between us for you to have known – I’ve always shown you respect. If our lives [while living] are short on the list above, I’m probably not moved that you have died, although If I say I am praying for your survivors, I mean it. I rarely say I’m praying for someone and don’t. If you’re dead, I can’t pray you back to life. If I could, I would tarry forever. Trust me. Twenty years ago, the worst death I’ve experienced occurred when my dear friend Eric Harkness was blown to bits in a TWA plane crash. Flight 800 crashed off the coast of Long Island July 17, 1996 and next year marks the 20th commemoration of the most horrific tragedy I’ve experienced.

I haven’t cared much for the month of July since. I don’t dig fireworks either. Since Eric’s death, I’ve lived with and perhaps even married people that I actually would not have minded at all if they never returned home, but I’ve never wished an air tragedy death on anyone. I wish no man or woman’s death before their time. There will never be closure for me regarding Eric’s sudden demise. It was surreal then, and it’s surreal now. I don’t need anyone to measure the gravity of my grief or tell me how much Eric did or did not mean to me. You couldn’t. You could not.

I did not attend my grandmother Lindy Cousar’s funeral either. I did attend her “Wake” and paid my final respects. I live with one thousand memories of my grandmother that all belong to me. I have as many or more relatives that embrace their own memories. Some we share; I’m certain others we do not. I give my family the latitude to privately dwell in their own place of memory for our family’s matriarch. I appreciate being given the same. If I recall accurately, I ate gumbo the night prior and vomited throughout the wee morning hours which is why I didn’t attend. Could I have “pressed my way” as we culturally say? Yes. I could have. I did not. The end.

This year, my dear friend Chris committed suicide. Within one week of her death on Easter morning, my even more dear friend Vincent died in Hospice. Easter was April 5th of this year, today is July 27th. This past Saturday, my cousin Michelle died in Memorial Hospital. Chris didn’t have a funeral. Vincent’s funeral and all of things related wore me thin. Michelle’s funeral was Saturday and I was not present. Here’s what I know about me: I mourn poorly. I carry stress within my body and it morphs into disease.

I generally regret when I “press my way” to attend anything that my instinct bellowed boldly to abstain from, and I know deep in my heart, I abhor funerals: abstain. I adored Eric who had the world’s most “morose” memorial service in his hometown of Ohio. There was no body to view, no “Wake” to attend, I was one of over one hundred flight attendants who trekked to the countryside to meet and comfort his family [and each other] and I was the only one who spoke and read words. Actually, it was a poem titled, “If you had wings.” [Eric didn’t want to go to Paris. He couldn’t find his uniform wings, his tie, things were going wrong…and he still went, and he never returned].

For Vincent, I also wrote and read a poem titled, ‘Graffiti Feet,” which was muted [for me] by a barrage of other nonsense regarding who was really his best friend or whether I was a good enough friend or all the stuff that seems to surface when people die which is one more reason why I don’t like funerals. They involve people who always find a way to hurt one another. Chris is remembered in the wind. This is a good thing. In the past 90-days, it’s been “real.” I have my own “stuff” going on and I deal with my “stuff” in my own privacy and with the pace I feel necessary.    It is what I require.

I don’t gauge or guess what others require when “death happens.” The manner in which you grieve, for how long, if you cry quietly or not at all or weep miserably – I allow every human being room to be themselves without judgment from me. Who am I to gauge your grief? An outward show of emotion(s), the timeliness in which we carry on with our lives, the interactions we share with one another via social media or in private, no one knows the depth of one’s grief. It is generally only revealed when they abide in their own solitude. The latter is certainly true for me.

I have friends who have lost parents, pets, partners, people they birthed, and I’ve seen the gamut of emotional denial and witnessed every possible depth of hopelessness and despair. Time in hours, months, years, or decades is no factor. For some, grief is a lifelong partner in pain. All I can do is account for me and express to the survivors and friends of those gone that I am praying for your strength always.

I am here if you need me, if I am able to avail myself. My personal “modis operandi” is more experience and gesture versus words or the open grandiose show, but I do break cycle and give more of me. Please just allow me to have as much of me as I need without raised brow, suspicion, criticism, or whispers. Was my cousin close or a distant cousin? She was my family and my friend. The two latter “f words” close the distance on both descripts. I have deep and loving memories of Michelle. I am in a distant place regarding other aspects of her life and allow that to be between her and the Lord she loved whom she is now resting in peace with. Her assignment has ended and while I’m saddened for her mother and children, I have personal peace regarding my love for her.

My final words are that “no one” speaks for Penny better than me. If I didn’t express it myself, consider it someone else’s attempt to waste their own breath or feel important. If my position still isn’t clear, “just ask me.” I have peace with all that I’ve penned. My truths have been conveyed, and I have peace.

Penny Dickerson 2015

One comment on “Penny’s Ground-Rules for Grief

  1. An article I can relate to so well. Many years of others hearing me say I don’t do funerals. I try and enjoy them when they are here…I have attended more as I have gotten older. Maybe my own self recognition of the years ahead of me are much shorter than those behind. Who knows. Or I may just have gotten soft in my older years. enjoyed this very much.


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