Thursday, April 04, 2019

COLUMN: Grief


Grief sucks.

Yes, I know. Insightful, eloquent, and original postulations like this are why they pay me the big bucks. (And maybe one day I'll get that check as soon as I figure out who "they" are and how I might be able to invoice them.)

But it's the truth. We've all spent the past week being thankful for life and the lives that surround, inspire, and nurture us. But part of appreciating life is the knowledge that we've all got expiration dates. And perhaps the only thing worse than death impacting our lives is when it impacts the lives of those we care about.

Over the past month, one of my close friends lost her mother and another lost his sister. And that -- well, that sucks. All you want to do is give them a hug and say just the right thing to make everything all better, but those words don't really exist or honestly even matter at times like this. Instead, all you can do is be there with a shoulder to cry on and as much strength, comfort, and support as you can muster.

I'm no expert in grief, but I know it can take many forms. There's no "right" way to grieve, and everyone handles loss in their own way. Its just that, in the world of social media, we now get to witness it a lot more often. Just today, I read an article about a woman who had recently lost her fiancee in a motorcycle accident. Rather than cancel her wedding photos, the grieving woman instead donned her wedding dress and posed for happy wedding pics -- solo. With some digital magic, the photographer then added semi-transparent images of her late fiancee to basically make it look like she was happily posing with a ghost.

I'll be completely honest with you guys -- it kinda creeped me out, and I made a snarky Facebook post about it. But then my friends checked me and put me in my place a little bit, and I'm glad they did. The photos might seem a bit macabre, but I also can't imagine the trauma of being in the midst of wedding planning and envisioning a future that's suddenly snatched away.

It's not the kind of souvenir I'd want on MY mantelpiece, but I've never been in this woman's shoes. If completing a set of wedding photos helps her grieve, so be it. It might seem weird, but grief IS weird. It's a complicated and insanely personal thing to bear.

I recently watched a special series of the show "Expedition Unknown" that was focused on the afterlife -- where we go when we die and how different cultures handle death, and it was fascinating. In one episode, they traveled to a remote part of Indonesia and spotlighted a tribe who live alongside their dead. When a family member passes, they mummify the remains and just leave them in the house for any number of years. The deceased are talked to daily, given meals, and treated like living family.

To them, it's just tradition. To us, it's the sort of thing that gets you locked away. One culture's normal can be another's Norman Bates. That same Indonesian tribe might find OUR burial customs just as weird as we find theirs. In that same tribe, after some time has passed, their deceased are finally removed from the home and given a funeral procession that puts the "fun" in funereal. It's basically a week-long party, and wouldn't that be the BEST way to go?

I mean, I don't particularly want my friends to think, "Finally. He's dead. Let's party!" But I don't want people blubbering over me, either. I want people to think of me, laugh, and tell stupid stories. And if there's any legacy I stand a chance of leaving, it's a cornucopia of stupid stories. I want to be remembered with a smile more than a tear.

And that is why, I beg of you people, in the event of my untimely demise, I openly encourage all of you to Photoshop ridiculous images of me into ANY AND ALL photos you'd like to post on the internet. I want my semi-transparent ghost to haunt the walls, halls, and superhighways of social media for all time.

There's a kajillion ugly photos of me out there, so use any you choose. Taking selfies at a nightclub? Stick me in the background with a serious DJ face, like I'm busily soundtracking your life from my afterlife. I never do a thing athletic in life, but it's never too late to start. So if someone captures you running a marathon, put my face on one of the other runners. Heck, put me on ALL the other runners and make it look like you're being chased by an army of ghost Shanes. Bonus points if you figure out a way to set it to "Unchained Melody."

I could become your new relationship litmus test. After all, what better a conversation starter than, "Who? Oh, HIM? That's the dead guy I put in ALL my photos. It's a long story." If the person doesn't run away screaming, they're a keeper.

At the end of the day, we're all on this marble together -- which unfortunately means we all get to leave it at some point, too. If you experience loss, don't be afraid to grieve as weird as you want, because it's a weird process. Don't hesitate to lean on your friends, and let them lean on YOU when they need it. Death might suck, but life always wins - and for that, I'm thankful.

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