Because, that’s why (five thoughts on memorials and grieving).

Stick it high. 

Raise your hand if you love going to memorials.

No one? 
No one does. 

But we go. This family goes.
Because we will be present. 

Raise your hand if you've ever said "...but I don't know what to say!"
Nobody does. 

But we say something, even if our mouths are silent.
If nothing else, we can give our time and we can bring our presence. 

So many people die on Game of Thrones. So many. Not gonna turn this into some 'desensitizing effect of violence depiction in pop culture.' Let me say this: 

It's ridiculous to pretend that the way we absorb death in film and television doesn't affect us. 

I am as strong a First Amendment advocate as some are for the Second (let's also be intellectually honest and consistent: you don't get to cherrypick which amendments you support and which ones you don't. Common sense, people. Common sense.). 

Point is, I support free expression and speech-related issues in many incarnations, including often unpleasant ones, and including the right of film and television to portray violence and death in exceptionally prolific and graphic ways. First Amendment ain't a little thing you apply when convenient and yank away when it applies to content you don't like. 

But let's be serious:

of course those things desensitize us.

Anything you experience over and over desensitizes you. I'm not saying violent content should be banned or censored. I'm saying it's

irresponsible and asinine to pretend it doesn't affect us

and take some sort of toll on our psyche. 

So what I meant when I said "not gonna turn this into some 'desensitizing effect of violence in pop culture' issue is that I'm going to do exactly that. 

We see death over and over and over, en masse, on screens. And it's often justified and makes us feel good because it's the righteous response to some atrocity we have the right to feel indignant about. So we cheer when violence begats violence and the bad dudes get what's coming. 

But it's all in long shot.

It's a comedy cause it's in long shot, like Charlie Chaplin says. It doesn't get tragic until it's up close and you see who's actually getting hurt. 

And that's the thing about memorials: it's an opportunity to hurt together. En masse.

To forgo the long shot of death at a distance, whether on a screen or a newspaper, and to experience it close up with those who are truly hurt and to feel the tragedy alongside, if only for a brief period. 

Maybe it's a statement that means only a tiny fraction of something. But I think it's better to do something that may mean something good, even if it's a fraction's fraction, than to take the easy route and do nothing. To make excuses, mostly under the valid banner of "...I don't think ____ cares whether I'm there or not."

We show up. Because our presence matters.


There are two episodes of television that I will probably return to for comfort at some point when my dad dies. I hope that time is a long, long time off. 

One of them takes place in a later season of the medical comedy 


One of them is in a later season of the wonderful and underwatched science fiction show 


The latter, especially, is a reminder of the beauty and the pain of having deep, deep relationships that hurt so much to lose. But you wouldn't give up having had them even though it hurts so much. Because they were special, they were beautiful, and they meant something meaningful that you will carry with you always. 

Who woulda thought?

For some reason, I usually feel like listening to Tame Impala after a funeral, memorial, or celebration of life service. 


Someday, I plan to research (for a short while, probably on Wikipedia) the social trend of moving from "funeral" to "memorial" to "celebration of life." 

I get it. Our choices of words are important. And there are distinctions amongst the three. But sometimes it seems like everything is about a 'a celebration of life' rather than the cold, formal 'funeral,' or slightly-more casual 'memorial service.' In the end, they're all about the same thing: acknowledging the passing of someone from one state to another; from life to death. 

Those little sugary nuts, please

If anyone ever asked my opinion about whether I would prefer to a) have food or b) not have food at a memorial service, I would generally say, 'a' most of the time. 

By 'generally,' I mean 'one hundred percent of the time.'

Don't skimp

Make sure people can hear. It's great to be able to see what people are saying about the deceased, but even more important, it's important to be able to hear what they're saying. 

So do what must be done to get appropriate amplification.

The clock

We all have better things to do.
Of course we do.

Death is not convenient. It often doesn't come at times that fit into our schedule.

But we drop those other things and show our respect by gifting our time.
Time is one of the few things we all have to give. And it's meaningful because there's no shortcuts or way of getting around it.

Until you're dead, you have no choice of whether or not to use your time. You're always using it in some way. It's a little like voting: a non-vote is still a vote, if nothing else for the status quo.

But unlike a vote, your time will be and can be used by only you.* 

If you were looking for the most efficient and effective way of using your time, then you should definitely not go to memorials. There are a thousand more productive ways to spend your time.

If we were robots or even androids, we should definitely just do away with funerals and memorials.But we are people, and if the relationships we hold are a defining part of what makes us human, then the memorials we choose to attend should be defining reminders of the most beautiful and illogical traits that make us human to begin with.

The fragile and beautiful strength of relationships that are not about productivity or efficiency or logic.

They're about the ways in which we are bound to one another, by blood or friendship or many other ways; all ways that forge meaningful and lasting relationships that inevitably, at some point, will always, always come to an end.

And we can choose to give our time. One more time.


*About Time : the very fun 2011 Justin Timberlake science-fiction thriller notwithstanding, in which time is very much a tradable commodity. 

Toddler-age boy drawing with a pencil at the table

Suffer the ?

Children belong at these things. They may not understand exactly what's going on, but it is an opportunity for us to show them, to model for them, what it means to show respect and empathy and how to grieve as a community. 

Although he was referring to entirely different situations (innovation at MIT), I like how Hal Gregersen refers to "constant, generative questioning." Few things are harder to think about, and even more difficult to talk about, than death.

Of course we want to shelter and protect our kids from dealing with pain or tragedy or "adult things," yet I also think it's valuable to begin conversations about grief and empathy early. And death is usually the ultimate catalyst for bringing grief. It sucks. 

Children are good at asking questions, and maybe that's a good thing to have around more when we're dealing with grief and death. Death doesn't make sense. There's no good answers. 

But there's a million questions. Death is a catalyst for talking and trying to understand what it means to really live, the kind of lives we want to live, and the ways in which our lives are connected and impact with others. 

Death is a catalyst for a billion questions. And we should encourage those questions and be okay with not having great answers. Or good answers. Or any answers. Because that's one of the great lies embedded into a lot of formal education: the importance of learning super good answers.

No. The important part is the question; encouraging the questions. 

It is okay to talk about these things. We don't need to be afraid of having difficult conversations about tough things. And it absolutely, totally, and completely is...

...okay to keep asking questions for which there are not good answers. 

Talk about a great life lesson to get from death. 

Kids are great at figuring out when adults shoo them away from certain topics. There's the Big Two. Politics and religion. But death is the third, I think, possibly followed by sex. Or preceded by. But why?

I don't advocate for dumping 'adult stresses' on kids. But I do advocate for encouraging the 

asking of questions 

and a response to those questions that is authentic, open-ended if need be, and respectful of the fact that they 

simply asked those questions.

Do we want kids to stop asking questions, to stop exploring and discovering and wondering?
Most would say no. 

Our kids don't enjoy memorial services any more than any other kids. They don't get excited about going. But they know it's something we do when we need to, as a family. They know it's a ritual, a part of something bigger than ourselves and outside ourselves that we can contribute to, if only with our presence. 

It's not a bad thing for kids to understand there's pain, there's bad things that happen, and we can run away from those things or we can try to be part of something to make the world better. They might not understand a lot of it, depending on their age and development, but we can help them understand the importance of sharing these rituals together and bringing something important to them...


So we show up. Because our presence matters.