I have been thinking recently about words and what they mean, especially when someone passes away. We feel most obliged (at times) to say “I am sorry for your loss” I am really sorry ” “my condolences” . We write all sorts of formalities on cards also, some are already pre arranged/pre formatted for us so that we don’t have to think too much of what we could say. We buy flowers if needed be, we attend funerals and look solemn. Even wear black…mind you for the Chinese it is white.
Now all these little things are as I said above etiquette and things that we should say or do during these times. I have been asking myself after seeing all that, if they really convey our sorrow, our grief, our hurt, our loss. Do we really mean it? Of course you would say we do. It is terrible to loose someone, like your mother, father, son, daughter and dear friends or any other family member that was close to us. It is normal to express through words the extend of our feelings.
I recall an incident that happened many years ago. I was just around 8 or 9 and my uncle who was living in the same building passed away. The whole house hold was in turmoil. women crying and lamenting, tears flowed freely. My grand mother was very distraught, it was her brother. All the family members arrived at 10 o’clock in the evening and everyone was surprised. How did it happened? Why now? My uncle, Phallo, was so nice…that was not true in my eyes, he was such a stingy man, severe, opulent, strutting in the street with the first black car in the area. A chauffeur by his side and at his beck and call. He owned a candy wholesale business that was located right under the house on the ground floor. You could imagine a little girl at the time passing in front of his door almost everyday after school and seeing mountains of lollies and biscuits all piled up. I used to say to him when I came back : “Good afternoon uncle” he hardly replied and went counting his stock. Day after day was the same routine. Mind you, he could have thought that it was in my interest to say such things. He hardly uttered a word and the thing that used to afflict me… or should I say …yes, you guessed it, was the fact that he never ever came out and offered me a biscuit or a lolly. I was really horrified at his stinginess. In my mind I would think “why is he like that”? But I never got a response to my questions. I remained perpetually baffled by the attitude of this man…a member of the family! Mind you, I used to sneak in the big room and look at the packets of goodies just gloating when he was at the back talking to clients, he never heard me or saw me….I supposed.
So, that night when he passed away, I never felt anything and my first thought was, what was going to happen to all the packets of lollies and biscuits? I did not feel the need to cry or felt sorry. But when the funeral went underway, everyone in the street was crying, screaming a real concert of lamentations. I was not allowed to go to the funeral as I was too little ( so I was told) and I stayed on the balcony watching the procession slowly coming out the house. I started to feel uncomfortable, my God! I am not crying, what should I do? The maid was also shedding some sort of tears, so I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a big onion and started rubbing it on my eyes. Yes, I started to cry and join all the people in their “suffering”. Could be genuine of course. When they came all back to our home and talked about it my grandmother and parents asked almost in unison: “You have such red eyes was it because of uncle Phallo ? I must have overdone it with the onion I thought. I did not answer as I was a little scared to say the wrong thing. I just stood there and just looked at everyone. All their eyes were on me. Dad came around as well as grandma and put their hands around me. I was really not at ease at all. So I ran to my room while the adults stood all dressed in black were milling around with cups of teas and coffees and other food that was on tables. Candles were lit everywhere for days on end. It was really nice to see all these lights. But as you can imagine, I was in a turmoil inside. People really believed I was crying for my uncle while in fact I despised him with all my heart. A few days later or maybe weeks, stories starting filling our house about all his Scrooge like approach, penny pinching and worse. Oh!boy I thought, I am not the only one. They thought the same I though all these years about him, but were they faking their crying too? I never asked them. Dad told me many years later that he was a real mean man and recalled some stories of his own. I felt vindicated. I told him the story about the onion. Mum and dad burst into a belly laugh for quite a while.
I asked myself then, how is it that people behave in such a way and pretend like that? I do not have an answer to that today. People are what they are and behave indeed in a strange way, I guess just hypocrisy I suppose. They have to. We all have to do weird things and pretend. Do we do that all the time?
How can we really put ourselves in other people shoes in such event? What words can we convey in times such as these? I also suppose that everyone shows their grief in a very particular manner. For me words are just a tool to describe something. an approximation of reality. Never the event itself. They are the map not the territory as someone would say. They only try to convey a fragment of what is taking place. If you are at the scene of an event and have 100 persons witnessing the same thing, not one recalling of that event will be the same. We all have a different perception of what took place. What are we seeing then? Of course, I am speaking on the psychological level, not in the realm of building a house for instance, where we need exact measurements and tools to perform the job.
If I were to describe to you the taste of an exotic fruit such as a durian, I will use all the vocabulary that I know of to describe to the best of my abilities the taste, the texture, the form, the consistency, the appearance. I will use all the imagery that is available to convey MY experience. It will stop there. Until you, yourself, go through the experience of it, it will have very little meaning. That is where I see the limitations of words. In the psychological realm, they are only an indicator, a pointer. Hence a limitation.
So, sometimes it is best to say nothing in moments of grief. A kiss, a touch, a look and above all a silence. Silence may communicate more than words. But we are all addicted to words and already made sentences, already made cards, already made formula, already made attitudes, already made reactions and beliefs. Of course, if we send some flowers or a card, the other person is going to see that we thought of her/him. they might be pleased or touched. What I am saying is that we are have to be AWARE of our actions at the time of doing so. Where does it come from? What is the motif behind it? Is it out of obligation? Just being aware of that, may change our response to many situations. Easier said than done hey? But, it is the stalking of our movements, our actions, our sentences already pre determined by our upbringing that is going to liberate us of our loaded ego. The incredible lightness of being has some merits.
I “ll leave you with a photo taken at dawn of a spider web in front of our veranda taken by Sulma Warne
Till next time.