When someone dies, in most cases, it brings family and friends closer together, and in spite of the sadness, there is joy and comfort in this renewed coming together. But I have an extremely important warning about what happens when everyone leaves after the funeral. I hope it is a message you will remember and pass along to others throughout your life.
My dear friend, Joe V. “Bud” Dasher Jr., passed away last week. He was a great friend and mentor for over 35 years and I know I will miss him greatly. As I attended all the activities, visitation, funeral, graveside service, lunch afterward, etc., it brought back many sad memories of my past.
After the burial, everyone has to get back to their homes, jobs and other activities, and when they leave, there is a great void.
This is a story about me, and I tell it only because of the importance of the message. It is a chapter in a book I authored about my life experiences and what I learned, or should have learned, from those experiences. This particular chapter is titled “Grieving,” but I should have titled it, “The Silence After the Funeral.”
Chapter 9: Grieving: When I was 24 years old, I was in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. It was over 200 miles from my hometown of Perry, Fla. On May 10, 1961, shortly after midnight, my commanding officer knocked on my door and woke me. He said, “Your brother has been killed in an automobile accident.”
Because I had an older and a younger brother, I asked, “Which one?” He said, “I hate to tell you this, but I don’t know.” My older brother was over two years older than I, and I looked up to him. To me he was the rock of our family. My younger brother was 23 years old, just 16 months younger than I, and we had been very close all of our lives. We were almost inseparable, like twins.
As I drove that long and sad trip home, I just didn’t see how I could accept it being either one. I would think of all the ramifications if it were one; then I would think of the ramifications if it were the other. It was only when I arrived in Perry that I found out it was my younger brother.
It was several days before we had my brother’s funeral, and my mother was taking it very badly. She was so distraught she had to be sedated and was unable to attend the funeral. As a matter of fact, it was very traumatic for all of us.
I think it’s more tragic when someone suddenly and unexpectedly exits this world at such a young age. We will never see the future we all would have had with that person. Also, there is something unnatural about parents burying their child. They expect it to be the other way around.
For me, 1961 was a very sad, yet joyful year. In spite of all the sadness, there was soon to be a lot of joy. On the front row at the funeral were five ladies all in full bloom. There was my wife, pregnant with our first child; my brother’s widow, also pregnant with their first child; her sister; my sister; and my first cousin. It was almost comical because all five of those women were visibly pregnant.
A few hours after the funeral, my wife and I still in shock, drove the 200-plus miles back home. As we were driving into the carport, we could hear our phone ringing. When I answered, I was told that my mother had just had a massive heart attack.
We immediately got back into the car and headed back to Perry. It was a serious heart attack, and we almost lost her, but happily she survived.
As I relive those events and write this story, even though it was 56 years ago, tears are streaming down my face. Now I will tell you the important reason I’m telling you about these events.
I talked to my mother at great length as she was recovering in the hospital. She talked about what happened after the funeral. She told me we all came back to their house; then each of us left one by one. Finally, after several hours, the last person left.
For some reason, even my father had left, and she was in the house all alone. She said everything was deathly quiet. It was like she had been deserted, and there was no one to talk to. I’m not sure, but perhaps she had a panic attack, and it brought on the heart attack.
From that point until now, I always made sure to tell my family and friends to never leave a person alone who is grieving.
I believe the period of time of never leaving them alone should extend for several days to several weeks. Because it is so important, you will do a great service if you tell your family and friends to pass this message on to others.
After a friend read the draft of this article, she suggested that I add a comment about staying in touch with a phone call, text or even a short visit every now and then.
Hoot Gibson is a resident of Valdosta, author of “Hoot’s Wisdom Nuggets You Cut, I Choose,” and “Hoot’s Wisdom Nuggets to Help You Become a Super Salesman.” Comments welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org.