On Death, Families and Relationships

So the boyfriend’s grandmother died last week. While the Man and I have been together for years, there has not been an occasion (thankfully) where I had to accompany him through the mourning process for a relative. He was there and held my hand as I visited my grandfather as he died, helped me to readjust him as he became uncomfortable, and held me close during the wake and funeral. (He also went on frequent coffee runs which I consider a true sign of devotion). However, I was never placed in those shoes. Actually, come to think of it, I never was in those shoes even with previous relationships.

Now, death is not something I am comfortable discussing at all. My grandfather was an Aussie and referred to them as a morbid American practice. I tend to agree. However, I also hate the idea that topics are too morbid or too taboo to discuss. By discussing things that are either taboo or (in the case of death), an inevitable part of the human experience, we find that common ground. I have found that when I have a chance to discuss something that I consider “odd/weird/taboo/etc.” with someone familiar with the practice/food/etc., I end up feeling more comfortable and walk away with a valuable educational moment.

I have always known that death rituals are culturally influenced. I come from a huge Irish family so the loud memorial services that come with that are familiar to me. However, the Man is not Irish. Additionally, these rituals are also influenced by the specific family involved. So while the mass was a Catholic church and that was familiar to me, there were still moments of disconnect with what I consider familiar and comforting. An example, I am used to readings being done by the family, this was not the case with his family.

I think when you think about a relationship, you never think about dealing with the family you are joining when death strikes. The Man and I have navigated Thanksgiving (doing THREE dinners in one day), Christmas, Easter, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays and countless other family events together. Those were still not the preparation needed for this experience. Death and the practices surrounding it are unique in families and not replicated easily elsewhere.  I believe facing these things in a relationship are one of the more difficult things in a couple’s relationship because of the importance that is put on mourning rituals in different societies. And it is one of the things that are least likely to be discussed in talks with girlfriends over skills needed for a relationship.

However, I found that many of the skills we use in other areas of life and making a relationship work are great tools here as well. It involves providing support for each other. This could be a hand that you hold or taking care of phone calls that need to be made for a grieving family. It can also be as simple as doing coffee runs or picking up the picture frames needed for a memorial. It involves tuning into what is needed and doing the best to provide it. This it turns out is not much different than other experiences couples go through after all. 

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