There is nothing more difficult than watching those we care about endure pain – Especially the pain that comes from unexpected tragedy. We may feel confused or unsure how to best help and support those we care about. A recent tragedy brought this fact home for me. In May of 2007, my ex sister in-law/best friend’s husband passed away. They had been having problems in their six-year marriage and had separated in April. Her father, having been ill for some time, suddenly passed away in New York. She flew to New York for the funeral and to be with her family, and returned two weeks later. Early the next morning I went to her daughter’s home, where she was staying during the separation, to tell her that her husband was gone.
Her daughter had called me in the middle of the night to tell me the news, and asked me to come over to give her mother the news when she awoke in the morning, as she didn’t have the heart or strength to do it herself. Needless to say, with her father having just passed away, she wasn’t getting much sleep so we decided to allow her the rest she desperately needed and would give her the terrible news in the morning.
My friend, Vi, was previously married to my brother and had two daughters together. Despite their divorce, she and I remain very close friends to the point of being “sisters”. She and my brother married when I was only fourteen years old, and she became the sister I never had.
Two friends of Vi and her daughter, Reece, made plans to come over to visit. These two friends, Gay and Denny, were also mother/daughter, and we’d all known each other for many years. Conflict in our personalities prevented me from establishing much of a closeness with them myself; However, I was asked to call them to verify if they were coming over to visit and determine an appropriate time.
Speaking with Gay on the phone, it became immediately apparent that she and her adult daughter were coming over to visit, but with a pre-set agenda. Gay told me that she and Denny would be arriving in about an hour, and that “there’s been enough crying, and when we get there we’re going to have a party”. Gay continued to say that it’s what “our people” do. (Gay and Denny are black, Vi is from Puerto-Rico, her now-deceased husband was black, and her daughter, my niece Reece, is white/puerto rican).
I’m not an expert but, common sense and sensitivity tells me that you don’t go to a grieving family’s home with a pre-set agenda of what will or won’t take place while there. While on the phone with Gay, I mentioned that Vi and Reece were not in the state of mind for a party at this time, that they were suffering a tragic loss and needed care and understanding from family and friends. I kindly suggested to Gay that whatever would take place should be decided by Vi and Reece, but Gay either didn’t grasp what I was saying or she simply didn’t care to.
The evening was a disaster. Gay made a fool of herself prancing around, dancing to her self-made music on a toy bongo drum, making up stupid rhymes in an attempt to make Vi and Reece laugh. Neither was in the mood to laugh, but for awhile put up a good front to appease Gay and Denny. The evening wore on and Vi made a discreet exit from the noise by saying she was tired and going to bed. That was a vain attempt to suggest everyone go home, or at least that Gay and Denny go home. Gay eventually laid down on the couch saying she was going to spend the night there and Denny would pick her up in the morning.
With Vi out of ear-shot, attempting to rest in her room, Reece began to let her emotions flow about the loss of her step-father. Until that moment, she’d been holding it in to be supportive and strong for her mother. Now she felt she could release some words and emotions without fear of adding to her mother’s stress. She began to express various thoughts and feelings, while I sat next to her rubbing her back and holding her hand. As is commonly known, grief has varying stages, and each person experiences those stages differently. All anyone can do is listen and empathize. There are no right or wrong answers in dealing with these type situations, and those we love and care for must trust that we will not criticize or judge them while they vent.
Reece made several attempts to get her thoughts out in the form of words mixed with tears, but was repeatedly interrupted by Denny and/or Gay saying Reece was wrong. I raised my hand in the air to suggest they allow Reece to speak without interruption. After several more attempts, Reece finally gave up and sighed heavily. Denny commented to Reece that she was only trying to help, and Reece replied that they haven’t even allowed her to get anything out that she’s trying to say. Denny didn’t take too kindly to this, and abruptly stood up announcing to her mother that they were leaving. Swiftly they put their shoes on and walked out the door slamming it behind them, but only after making the statement that “This is the difference between Our people and Your people”. Oh. So the evening was to be all about THEM, rather than being there for Vi and Reece for comfort sake.
The added punch to this story is that Gay and Denny, supposedly “friends” for over twenty years, did not attend the funeral service, nor have they called or been heard from since that night of “partying”. Since that night, Vi and Reece have recounted this story to several people, of all races, and every person has said they are appalled by what occurred that night. Those of the black race were shocked and appalled that Gay and Denny would represent themselves in this way, as if the spokespersons for the entire black race, in how black people as a whole deal with death and mourning. Given their attitude and behavior that night and since then, personally I don’t believe Vi and Reece are missing much from these two “friends”. Gay and Denny have clearly shown their true colors, what they are made of, and this does not describe true friendship.