Post Mortem Etiquette

NYPD One Police Plaza

NYPD One Police Plaza

Did you ever notice that one of the many stupid things people say when you lose a loved one includes the line, “Oh, I’m so sorry, how old were they?”  Well, since I’ve lost someone close to me, where age was never a factor in determining my level of grief, I have come to both dread and outright hate this question.  But now that it has crawled its way into my consciousness, I have no choice but to confront it head on.

The question alone ‘How old were they?’, implies that based on the answer, the questioner can either have a reaction of utter dismay or a reaction of relief, either way it leaves the person who is actually grieving unnerved.  If I respond with “three months old“: dismay, if I respond “ninety“: relief, (followed by stupid response number two: “well, they lived a long life.”)  Am I supposed to buy that line of crap?  Am I supposed to feel less sad for someone I’ve known my whole life, let’s say my grandparent, vs. someone I’ve known for only three months.

Is my grief mitigated by age?

And then there’s the middle aged dilemma, not quite too young to evoke the shock and awe response, but not too old to get that 2nd line of crap.  In fact, people here aren’t quite sure what to do.  Here’s a suggestion, stop asking the fucking question!

My father died at age sixty-seven.  It was sudden and tragic.  Is my heartache any less?  Of course not.  I didn’t see him as young or old, I only saw him as my dad.

In this I am sure I am not alone.  No one wants to measure their grief in time.  From the new mother who gives birth to a stillborn, or the daughter who loses her ninety-six year old mother, grief is grief.

So to all of those thinking about asking this question next time you are face to face with someone who has just lost a loved one, don’t do it.  Be kind, say your sorry, give and hug and move on.  I know I don’t want to be remembered for how old I was when I died, but rather how I lived.

Don’t you?

Reposted courtesy of

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