Friday, October 21, 2011

Why Friend Grief is Different - Pt. 3

In my last post, I brought up the painful situation of not being notified of a friend’s death.
As we all know, the stress of grief can affect our memories. Try as we might, things fall through the cracks as we plan for the funeral and deal with the loss of a loved one. It’s embarrassing at times. Personally, I’m on a mission to require name tags at wakes. People you haven’t seen in years walk up and say “you don’t remember me, do you?” On a good day, it’s hard to recognize people you haven’t seen for decades. Being at a wake is probably not a good day. But I digress.
Families are usually the ones organizing the funeral events, and chances are, they don’t know every person their loved one knew. They might not even realize there is an online community of friends. So when it comes to notifying people, there are lots of opportunities to be inadvertently left out.
The sadder situation, though, is when friends are deliberately not notified. When you were a kid, you probably had friends your family didn’t like. Maybe that friend was considered a bad influence, maybe they weren’t in the same social class, or maybe they were just ‘different’. But that didn’t mean you weren’t friends. In fact, it may have been the reason you were friends.
Imagine now, being one of those friends - those not-quite-acceptable friends - deliberately not told of your friend’s death. Not knowing you exist is one thing; not approving of you is something entirely different.
I was working with a client in the early 90’s, an AIDS hospice in Chicago, and I grew close to some of the residents. One young man, from a small rural community downstate, was very clear about what he wanted for his funeral: cremation, no church service. His family had disowned him, so it seemed reasonable to assume his wishes would be honored. His friends stood ready to do what he wanted.
After he died - and I remember to this day how horrible his death was - his family appeared to claim the body. They didn’t visit him while he was alive, but took his body home, for burial and a church funeral to wash away his sins.
Despite his wishes, there was nothing his friends could do about it. Needless to say, none of us were invited. We had our own “service” for him, but knowing his wishes weren’t followed by his family left us all with a bad taste in our mouths.
It’s never too late to consider not just the kind of funeral you want - or don’t want - but who should be included. You can put some of that in a will, but really, those kinds of instructions are best kept separately. And don’t keep them in a vacuum! Writing them down is just the first step: share them, or make their existence known, with family and friends. Keep it up to date, or at least give instructions on how to find your most current contact lists on your computer, etc.
And per Kristie West’s great comment on Wednesday’s blog, I’m going to research ways for you to share your wishes and your list of friends on secure websites.
If you’ve ever been left out when a friend dies, you know how it magnifies your grief. Keeping a list of your friends to be notified won’t eliminate all possible errors. But it could go a long way towards ensuring that your friends never feel that kind of pain.


kathleen pooler said...

Wow, Viki, this is a very pertinent topic,especially for all of us who have so many online contacts.My family would have no clue who to notify. I,for one, am very interested in hearing what your research yields. Like I keep saying, you have a very important mission & message!

Beverly Diehl said...

Call me paranoid (I'm a relatively young woman, in good health) but I have had my "affairs" in decent order for about 20 years, because I have seen and been horrified by this kind of thing.

I realize I can't control what happens after I die - but I can let my wishes be known, pick executors who will comply with my wishes, etc. If this is important to you, don't simply "tell a friend" when you are estranged from your family, establish LEGALLY who's in charge.

I keep a passcode-protected spreadsheet with all my log-in and passcode info, and periodically e-mail my sisters with the passcode to the spreadsheet, so if something happened to me, they could access my accounts & let people know, from FaceBook to Twitter to my various eddresses.