My *extended family member's mother passed away this past weekend after suffering with Huntington's disease for years. She had spent the last 3 years in a nursing home, unable to talk, eat, walk, or communicate in any way by herself. See had been pretty badly off for some time before that.
I called to express my condolences and talked with my extended family member--a very gentle, sweet person--for a few minutes.
In the middle of that conversation I realized, once again, that people say all kinds of things without really thinking about them. In order to express her consolation that she and her brother and her father were all present when her mother passed, along with their families, she referred to my father's death, making a comparison about the comfort of one death over another. She went further bringing up the comfort that her mother was in Heaven while we didn't have that comfort about my father. We were left with "uncertainty".
My father died alone from what the medical examiner thinks was a massive heart attack, with the phone still in his hand. He never made the call that he was probably trying to make to 911. That's how instantaneous his death happened...not enough time to even press three numbers on a phone. It wasn't discovered that he had died until at least a week or two later.
He also died an atheist.
I didn't respond to my extended family member's comments. I know that she is hurting and has no intention to offend . I know that she is just expressing ideas that my own brother still struggles with. I know exactly what she meant by her comments, because I might have made those same comments a few years earlier.
So, this post isn't about ranting and outrage over my extended family member's comments. Instead, I wanted to merely mark down the idea that so much of our comfort comes from having a concrete example to compare things to. It seems as if we can only feel good about ourselves and our circumstances when we have other people and disasters to view as horrible examples.
It's as if goodness and happiness joy can't exist if it doesn't have an evil by which to define itself. We are "good" people because we are not like those "bad" people. Our choices are good choices because they are different than those bad choices...etc.
My extended family member found comfort that God had brought them all together to be present at her mother's death, as if it were some grand design that coincidentally happened when really, it was due to the nurses calling and telling them that her mother didn't have much time left and everybody should come if they wanted to say goodbye to her.
But we take comfort where we can find it and dress up the ugliness behind how we get that comfort. Most of the time we don't even see the ugliness because it isn't important to us. It's just a vehicle we use to move us along to a better emotional place.
The ugliness behind my extended family member's comment is the idea of my father being eternally in hell. From such a thing she stole a moment of consolation that her mother wasn't suffering the same fate.
It would be an easy thing to be upset about....except for the truth that we all function in this way at times.
* I edited this to remove some identifying information.