Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Good grief.

One of my students died suddenly last week.  I don't really want to talk about it, and this isn't about him in particular, but his death is what prompted musing and conversations on the subject, so it is relevant.  Suffice it to say, I've been thinking a lot about grief lately.

My first real experience with death came when I was already an adult.  My great-grandmother and my grandfather died within about a month of each other in the winter of 2000-2001.  Mamaw died in late December.  I made the trip down to southern Virginia with my mother and grandmother for the funeral, and it was a very emotional, somber time.  There were, as you might imagine, a lot of tears.  I felt uncomfortable and out of place.

Grandpa died toward the end of January, just under a month later.  While Mamaw was my mother's grandmother, Grandpa was my dad's father.  I'm not going to mince words here: Grandpa's wake was like a party.

I don't mean that in a disrespectful way, though there were certainly conversations going on that some might have considered disrespectful.  If there was a funny and/or ridiculous thing that Grandpa did at any time during his ninety-some years of life, we made fun of him for it.  There were some isolated outbreaks of tears, but most often they were tears of laughter.

My mother and my sister were aghast.  I was accused at least once of not caring that Grandpa was dead.  The word Vulcan may have been used.  And I determined that my way of grieving might be weird, but it was weird in exactly the same way as my father's whole family.  By the time my paternal grandmother died a few years later, my mother had accepted the fact that we were not actually unfeeling, terrible people, even if we did seem so sometimes.

Over the last several years, I've heard many references to stoicism in the face of grief being an Irish characteristic.  This week, as I talked with a colleague about our reactions to grief (which are similar) as well as a third colleague's, she made reference to it as well.  All three of us have extremely stereotypically Irish last names.

Is it reasonable to ascribe my reaction to a country I've spent approximately eight days in, and which my ancestors left nearly two centuries ago?  Perhaps not.  But it does make me feel a little more normal, if that's possible at a time like this.

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