Inappropriate

Desert dandelion flower.  Scenes from a trip to Anza Borrego State Park in southern California, March 23-26, 2009

“Mommy, what does appropriate mean?”

My answer to that loudly whispered question was the same one I’d given to her other 473 questions that day: “We’ll talk about it later.”

When my husband told me he wanted to speak at his brother’s funeral, I just knew it would go badly. And when he said his oldest brother and dad also wanted to speak, I was convinced the whole thing would be a train wreck. After all, I’d been watching these stubborn, proud men fall apart from the moment I walked into the hospital waiting room. How could they possibly expect themselves to stand next to a casket and speak about the person in it, a man they loved, who died too young, who should simply not be dead?

I don’t know how they did it. But my husband and my in-laws stood behind that podium and spoke beautifully. I was so proud of them, even as I had to admit that I was completely wrong in assuming they couldn’t do it.

You know how sometimes you use a word or you hear a word and it just sticks with you? And the next thing you know, you can’t stop yourself from overusing the word until you begin to question the actual meaning of the word? That happened at my brother-in-law’s funeral.

Mark spoke first, and he said what we’d laughed about in the car earlier that morning. He said he wanted to share a funny story about his brother, but he just couldn’t think of one that was appropriate. His oldest brother and dad echoed that sentiment, mentioning inappropriate memories without actually sharing them until my squirmy, confused little girl whisper-shouted, “What does appropriate mean?”

It wasn’t as awkward as her repeated requests to look at the body during the visitation or even her promise to “not touch it.” And, I suppose, the comic relief was much easier to deal with than when she started crying, again, and saying, “I don’t want Brian to die!”

[Some might say that taking a 4-year-old to a funeral is inappropriate. Some days, I might agree. Honestly, I have no idea if anything we've done over the past week and a half is right or wrong or proper or not.]

But just like the word, “appropriate,” got stuck in my husband’s and in-laws’ head during the eulogies, the theme of appropriate – or not – has been stuck in my head ever since.

There is nothing appropriate about a 36-year-old man dying in an accident.
There is nothing appropriate about a 14-year-old boy losing his father.
There is nothing appropriate about a father losing his son just years after losing his wife.

Death is inappropriate.

My understanding of the book of Genesis is that God never intended for death to enter this world. But our sin ushered it in and offered it a seat in our earthly lives. So, while it isn’t right and wasn’t in the original plans, death is part of life. It feels wrong. Because it is. I think death is inappropriate.

When I started thinking that, I looked up the word to make sure I wasn’t misusing it. Based on the list of synonyms associated with “inappropriate,” I’m okay with my statement. After all, who could disagree that death is improper, incongruous, incorrect, perverse, unfit, unhappy, unseemly, unsuitable, wrong or out of place?

So many things happened last week that I could easily label as inappropriate. From our assumption that Brian was driving irresponsibly when the accident happened to our mixed emotions when the highway patrol confirmed that he was not, to the awkward combination of distant relatives and estranged ones, ex-girlfriends and co-workers, to white socks under a charcoal suit and Hank Williams, Jr. as background music – it was all so inappropriate.

But how could it not be? Death is inappropriate.

At one point during the emotionally charged week, I got really upset with Mark. He said, “I’m sorry. I’m not handling this right.” That immediately took the wind out of my hurt feelings and righteous anger, because, as I told him, there’s no right way to handle something like this. There’s no right way to grieve. There’s no way for any of us, for any of it, to be appropriate.

When I was in high school, my family experienced a particularly traumatic and confusing situation. Though it wasn’t directly related to me, I was thrust into the middle of things and expected to participate in the whole mess. Later, when I tried to express how it made me feel, I was told, “I don’t know why you’re upset. This doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

I was told that my feelings were inappropriate.

Last week, I found myself placing that same judgment on my husband, myself and so many others. But the truth is that our feelings, unlike death [or white socks under a charcoal suit], aren’t quantified like that. Feelings aren’t appropriate or not. Feelings just are.

I guess the same argument could be made for death itself, even when it happens to a healthy young man in the prime of his life. But my feelings aren’t having any part of that rationale. This? This death? It isn’t right. It isn’t proper. It isn’t appropriate.

- Falling to my knees and crying while my baby girl watches.
- Shooting daggers at the person demanding comfort from my grieving father-in-law.
- Jealousy at being left out of meetings and conversations.
- Relief at being told, finally, that we’re leaving the hospital.
- Keeping track of who called or messaged or emailed or visited.
- Being told I was awfully sad for someone who didn’t get along with him.
- Being asked to navigate family feuds and snapping when I couldn’t handle it.
- Feeling thankful for time spent with family, for afternoons of cousins catching frogs.
- Snickering at the number of ugly shirts in his closet . . .
. . . and shuddering at the thought of what I might find in his bedside table.
- Forgetting for a split second why I was cleaning out his bathroom . . .
. . . and being happy to take home an unopened box of white strips.
- Enjoying watching my husband drive his brother’s Corvette . . .
. . . and making jokes that included “over his dead body.”
- Telling the pastor that the service shouldn’t be “too Jesus-y.”
- Thinking I should make cinnamon rolls and crying because he would have loved that.
- Suggesting the worst songs ever for the visitation CD – and laughing about it.
- Forgetting the CDs at my father-in-law’s house and driving like a maniac to go get them.
- Not minding Mark’s expensive new suit because he looked so darned good wearing it.
- Wishing, just for a moment, that someone was there to stand by me, to hold my hand.

All of it was inappropriate. And that’s not even all of it.

You probably know. You’ve probably lost someone close to you or close to someone you love, you’ve sat in hospital waiting rooms and walked into funeral homes and stepped over neighboring graves in the cemetery. If you have, then you probably know. You know how it feels to say the wrong thing, to laugh – or cry – at the wrong time, to be hurt because someone else said or did the wrong thing.

There’s no right way to react, no right way to feel, no right way to grieve. Almost everything we do and say, in the face of death, is wrong when examined through someone else’s lens. And I think, in these moments, that just has to be okay.

There’s just nothing appropriate about death.

Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who commented, messaged, called, emailed, sent cards and prayed. I appreciate you so very much. And that will always be appropriate.

Comments

  1. Oh, Mary, I’m so sorry you and your family are going through this right now. You’re right. There’s no right way to grieve. What might seem “inappropriate” to one person is actually the best thing another person can do in their mourning.

    And as a bereavement professional? Can I offer you absolute assurance that taking your daughter to the hospital and the funeral and all of that was the right call? I always strongly encouraged families to let their children attend services for three reasons: so where the family is, isn’t a mystery, so the children can have a sense of closure, and so the family can model what grief looks like. Grieving is a sucky part of life and it’s unfortunate when children experience it. But allowing them to be a part of the process can be so healthy and healing for them.

    I’m here for whatever you need, friend.

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Thanks, Leigh. I did feel that Annalyn needed to be there for closure. I’m not sure I handled everything she asked and did while there the right way. But she was there, with her family, so I think that was good. It is a hard thing to grieve with a child.

  2. Wow. This is a powerful, perfect post.

    I’ve prayed for you.

  3. Terrific, open, honest, truthful post! I love that you sat and wrote all of this out b/c I think it’s such a raw, healthy thing that needed to be recorded for you, for your readers, and for random googlers who need to see this.

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Thanks, Christina. You’re so right – I needed to just get it out and down on “paper.”

  4. Oh, Mary. I wish I had something to say. Just know I love you and am praying for your whole family.

    a

  5. This is a beautifully written post. Thank you for your honesty and I am sorry for the untimely loss of your family member.

  6. Well written! HUGS to you all!

  7. You words are so “appropriate”…so sorry for everything you have gone through.

  8. AMEN! I wish that no one ever had to go through any of what you guys are going through. Unfortunately we all do at some time, to some degree. But I do believe that, no matter what we think or feel, there is very little that is “inappropriate” when dealing with death and grief! I hope you don’t mind if I share this with others so they can know that it is “okay” and “APPROPRIATE”!

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Tammy, thank you for your kind words and of course you can share this with anyone!

  9. Christelle says:

    Love you Mary!

  10. Very thought-provoking post, and my condolences to your family. We have lost 3 family members in as many years (my cousin, aunt, and father), and just today our dog of 12 years passed away. We are surrounded by loss every day; your take on this is one I had not considered, and it is making me think. Thank you.

    Please accept my best wishes to your family, and one piece of advice – keep talking about the deceased. They live on in heaven, and should live on with us as well in our daily memories and thoughts. Your daughter will be stronger for it, to talk about her feelings as she deals with the loss. :) My boys are living proof of that – they need to talk to remember.

    Emily in Michigan

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Emily, thank you for your words. I am so sorry for your family’s losses. It just seems like too much sometimes, doesn’t it? Thank you for sharing with us here.

  11. Mary, another brave and honest post. Grief is just such a BIG emotion encompassing such varied feelings. You summed it up as accurately as anything I’ve seen.

    You and your family are in my prayers. Hugs!

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Thanks, Paula. And yes – it IS a huge, complex thing, this grief!

  12. Thank you for trusting us and sharing this horribly difficult experience, Mary. You write so beautifully, straight to the heart and guts of it all. “There is nothing appropriate about a father losing his son just years after losing his wife” is painfully true for my family too.
    I keep thinking of you, and am especially praying for your husband right now.
    All love, Adele x

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Thank you so much for your prayers, Adele. I appreciate it so very much!

  13. Mary, this is amazing. What an honest, thought-provoking, heart-tugging post. I absolutely agree that death is inappropriate in all the ways you mentioned–but I would never have put it into words so eloquently.

    And I can’t BELIEVE some of the things people say to the hurting family that are tacky and heartless, which are not the same as inappropriate.

    I love you and I were there to give you a great big hug and hold you while you cry.

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      So true – there is a line between tacky and inappropriate. :) Thank you, friend! Love you!

  14. I’m so, so sorry. I love this post. know all these feelings well.

  15. Mary, this was so beautifully written. And so freeing. I lost a very dear friend nearly 4 years ago, and I remember how her death and funeral felt so inappropriate, and how my grief seemed so inappropriate {to go from crying to laughing to crying}. But reading what you wrote, reminds me that death isn’t appropriate, it isn’t what God intended. And how we all mourn a dear one’s passing, will never be appropriate but like you said, that just has to be okay.

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Not appropriate but okay – I think that’s a fair goal for all of us who go through a loss. Thank you, Sarah.

  16. Alexandra says:

    Mary, thank you so much for writing this post… there are way too many of us who can identify with the extremes of grief and pain which you describe so well.
    Don’t let ANYONE make you believe that you aren’t “entitled” to grieve for your brother-in-law.
    How could you not grieve for someone who was beloved by your beloved?
    I’ll be praying for you.

  17. I’m so sorry for the hurt your family is going through.
    This might be my favorite post of yours – very powerful.

  18. Wonderful post. You said all the hard things that I went through at the loss of a loved one.

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      I’m sorry for your loss, Anita. But thank you for reading and commenting here.

  19. Beautiful post, Mary. I’m so sorry for your loss. When my son’s preschool teacher died a few years ago, I wasn’t sure if we should take our kids to the wake/funeral. But a friend of mine encouraged me to bring them, because it helps them understand not only death, but also eternal life. Your little girl will be just fine. God bless you and your family during such a difficult time.

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Thank you, Anne. Going through big, hard things is difficult enough for adults – but figuring out how to do it with/for little ones just multiplies the whole mess!

  20. chelleybutton says:

    I’m so sorry, Mary. :( So awful and messy. And I just realized I haven’t sent my card yet… (I really did buy it a while ago though — you understand, right?)

  21. I’m so sorry Mary. I’m so sorry. Praying for you all.

  22. Mary, I’m sorry for your family’s suffering. I am so glad you shared this post, though. Ironically enough, I find myself searching for the appropriate words to explain how I feel about what you’ve written! It’s like the saying about no one knowing what it’s like to walk in your shoes. The emotions and aftermath brought on by grief and trauma just don’t make rational sense to someone who isn’t walking in them. When people let you work through it without judging or expecting, it is the best gift they can give. Conversely, they cause more pain by expecting you to think, feel, or behave in a certain way. Your words resonated with me. Thank you, Mary.

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Mandy, thank you so much for your comment. You’re so right – grief (and so many other emotions) doesn’t make sense to anyone else.

  23. Such a beautiful post. I think you so did the right thing by taking Annalyn to the funeral. Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise. Your words are just so gorgeous here and I am sure they are very healing to someone right now. Thank you so much for sharing.

  24. My gosh, Mary, this post is so . . . appropriate. :-) I started out, reading along, nodding and smiling, and about 3/4 the way thru, you just totally got me. I am bawling because you are so right, there is NOTHING appropriate about death. Not a thing. And yes, I think most of us can probably relate. But most of us can’t express what you just expressed – at least not in such a raw, honest, poignant way. Thank you for sharing your heart. I’ll be praying for you and your family in the weeks and months ahead.

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Thank you so much, Jo-Lynne. I wish nobody could relate, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to express it all anyway.

  25. Oh Mary.

    I had no idea. I’m so sorry.

    We’ve been through so much and here’s what I can tell you… the only inappropriate thing you could do, would be to not be true to yourself, for your family to worry at this time what others are thinking and for you to do something that doesn’t feel right.

    Just follow your heart, leave it open and just go.

    love, prayers, and hugs.

    R

  26. No, Mary, I missed this when you published it, but I’m glad you linked to it today. This is good. Important. True. Precious.

    All very appropriate for such an inappropriate occasion.

    {{love}}

  27. Bless your heart. Maybe it’s “inappropriate” that I’m commenting here instead of your current post, but I just wanted to say–you are spot on. So sorry for what your family is going through.

  28. This is beautiful and so appropriate! I’m just reading it for the first time now, December 31, 2013, because it was a link included in your “When your ‘Best of List’ Comes up Empty.” Thank you for your honesty and insight and beautiful words on such an “inappropriate” death. Peace to you and your family. Happy New Year!!

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