This is part two of a five part series about what to say to someone who has recently lost a loved one. Read part one here.
I love to make things awkward.
Mostly because it tends to offset the awkwardness that is already there. It’s a defense mechanism, without a doubt, but it helps. It helps me get through those uncomfortable moments that are born from being “that girl whose mom died.”
Typically it’s also a social situation where the vibe can be felt. You know, the vibe – the one that exists around you when you come back from taking time off and then try to hop back into your normal social routines and gatherings.
People sidestep certain conversations so they don’t upset you, they buy your first drink because you’ve had a tough week, or they give you a hug that lasts a few seconds longer than normal. It can all get strange, really fast.
I’m always really glad that people are sensitive to how my life is going when we’re together, but sometimes I just want to feel normal!
So how do I reclaim normalcy in groups? I make jokes about losing my mom. Jokes that I know my mom would laugh at if she were around.
I say things like, “I couldn’t find her at my graduation because I lost her before that,” as if she just wandered off into the city and couldn’t find her way back home.
I can’t really explain how I manage to make the jokes, they just…happen. I can pinpoint, though, when they started. After my mom’s memorial service everyone would tell me how much I looked and sounded like her. (I had, and continue to have, people tell me this all the time.) After losing her, this isn’t something I want to hear. It felt like people weren’t looking at me, the individual. Instead they were seeing a tiny clone of my dead mother.
At first I wondered, “what can I actually do about this?” Nothing. I couldn’t do anything because others are grieving too and I have to respect that their grief is different than mine and if they need to tell me how much I remind them of my mom, they can go ahead.
It wasn’t until I was complaining about this to my roommate that we stumbled onto the perfect solution. Let them grieve, but amuse myself by telling them all to just call me by my mom’s name, Terri.
Just imagine what this person would do when I say, “I understand. We were very close. I am a lot like her. Just call me Terri from here on out.” They’d probably oblige to this absurd request because I’m the grieving daughter and they have to be sensitive.
Now this very well may be a “you had to be there” moment, but I just found it so funny. It was one of those moments that made my abs hurt and mascara run. I never actually said this to anyone, but having that private joke made uncomfortable moments so much more bearable.
From then on out, I love making what others may consider to be awkward jokes about my mom and her passing. I sound like a terrible person when I do, but it’s the only way I get to laugh about the situation, which is how I deal with problems of any kind.
I try and lighten the mood with a joke. In most other social settings it works, it just isn’t always appreciated when death is involved.
Making jokes about the deceased is similar to making jokes about family. Only you can do it. No one else can or should. For some, making a joke about your loss speaks about the kind of relationship you had with the deceased. For me, I feel comfortable making jokes about how I can’t find my mom because our relationship was so intense that I know she would find the joke as funny as I do.
I never put my mom or myself down. My jokes are clean, witty, and good natured. They don’t disrespect my mother’s memory, they just help break the ice. They help me put myself in the other person’s shoes and understand what they may be seeing when they look at me.
When you’re trying to rebuild your life and come back from a huge loss, you really do have to be selfish and put yourself first. Making jokes helps me cope, so if it’s easier for you to relate to a group of people by making a joke about your situation then do it. If you think it’ll help people stop thinking about you as “the kid whose parent died,” — what do you have to lose?
I’m a firm believer that when you take care of yourself, it puts you in a better position to cultivate relationships with other people. Taking care of yourself after a loss means sometimes stepping back and just laughing when you can.
How do you make it through those awkward moments? Let us know in the comments below!