‘Good’ Grief …

After graduating from University I had the opportunity to travel across Canada with my friend Nancy. With a limited budget we scheduled our numerous stops to include overnight visits with friends and relatives along the route … which satisfied considerably more than economics.

Arriving in Vancouver we were fortunate to settle with Nancy’s Aunt Mary and Uncle Bill. They invited us to enjoy their home as the west coast base for both our day trips and overnight excursions. They eagerly welcomed us with open arms and a place setting for each next meal, complete with our own linen napkin. They were very hospitable and extremely entertaining which made it easy for us to relax and contribute to the rhythm of their home. We finished each evening off with a night cap and a round of stories.

Nancy and I shared a room with two single beds, still set up with furnishings from when their own children lived there. We’d yak and giggle ourselves to sleep and then cheerfully awaken each morning to Aunt Mary’s gentle tap on the door to tell us that breakfast was ready.

Early one morning, we heard the tap and Aunt Mary opened the door just a crack. In the same warm and gentle pre breakfast voice we had grown used to, she announced “Good morning girls. I’m sorry to tell you Uncle Bill passed quietly in the night.” And then with little hesitation, she added “breakfast will be served whenever you’re ready.”

We were stunned by the news. We had no response as it came to such a shock to us. We were speechless, not just by the suddenness of his death but by the casual nature of the delivery of the news.

As I stared across the floor to Nancy, I shot her strong nonverbal signals begging for an explanation. Growing up Italian such restraint and stoicism were not behaviors I recognized and attributed to mourning. Even Nancy was surprised by the matter of fact manner in which we were informed.

What followed was equally foreign to me. There was no drama of the occurrence, no details were shared of the late night event and definitely no tears were openly shed. Wow. I could not believe what I was witnessing. His surprise ‘passing’ fell into place in the regular routine of the night with little interruption to our day. It was as though he had slipped out quietly, careful not to slam the door and wake us from our sleep. After all, we were guests in his home.

The next few days were very enlightening to me. I tried to stay out of the way of the influx of friends and relatives arriving from all over the country. And as I remained in the background I did pay attention to the open acceptance of his ‘death from natural causes’ as well as the celebration of his life, albeit a shortened one.

I enjoyed Uncle Bill in the brief time I was with him. He was fun, warm and engaging. He was definitely loved and would be missed by those who knew him.

In time I was able to appreciate the calm, quiet and gentle acceptance of ‘death’ as an alternative experience in mourning to which I was accustomed.  I learned through the experience that although there appeared to be little sorrowful emotion shown, it was in no way indicative of the feelings people had for him. The displays of grief and sadness differed but were no less sincere or meaningful.

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