How to Help Yourself When Your Favorite Platitude Fails

I’ve been off posting for a week; my stepmother died suddenly at age 61, and Catter and I have been helping my dad and half-sister since then.

I haven’t found a real space to grieve yet outside of choking up when my toddler says things like, “Grandma can’t have favorites anymore. Grandma’s dead.”

Almost from the moment this happened, people have been telling me, “He’s too young to understand. He won’t remember this.”

I don’t know. He seems to get the concept pretty well.

I was also admonished that I shouldn’t have him around the funeral or any of the other events, and we ignored those. He loved his grandmother, and I’m glad that got to say goodbye to her, whether or not he remembers it when he gets older.

You get inundated with platitudes and stories when something like this happens. Everyone has advice for how you can deal with it, or is vocal about their lack of advice. My dad and half-sister are Jewish, and most of the tradition of Judaism is to surround the bereaved with loved ones, feed them a lot, and keep everyone busy. It seems like it’s really helped both of them, at least in the early stages of this process.

I don’t know what happens to us after we die, and neither does anyone else. Maybe we all float up to heaven and get to live in eternal bliss with billions of other people who have died before us, watching what happens on Earth on a giant Jumbotron. Maybe we all get reincarnated. Maybe dead is dead, and the best we can hope for is that someone will remember us.

This is the time where I’d like to feel like I should do something different and somehow better with my life — I want to take some lesson from it. That’s what happened when one of my best friends, Nicole, died in a plane crash.

On my run this morning, I was trying to think of things that people said that made sense to me, or platitudes that made me feel like there was something I should be doing differently, or, after that failed, anything at all. I came up blank. There was just me and my (almost) bare feet on the pavement, which was comforting in and of itself.

I don’t know what happens to us after we die, neither does anyone else, and I don’t want to know.

The only thing I want to do is the only thing I ever really want to do, which is play with Rypp and Catter. It’s stronger right now than normal, which I suppose is my coping mechanism. One of my co-workers calls Catter and Rypp my ‘circle of sanity,’ and I think that’s about right.

When the platitudes fail me, I retreat into my circle of sanity. It gives me a baseline.

After that, I just need to do stuff. That’s why I went back to work quickly. It’s why I’ve been running. It’s why I’m writing again. I need to test the limits of my circle of sanity, and figure out where I’m ok — and where I’m not.

Death is one of the boundary conditions — maybe the only boundary condition — by which we all define our lives. Testing my boundaries is the only thing that helps me feel like I might have some power over death, even though I know I don’t. But it sure beats sitting around and listening to platitudes.