One of my best friends brought a pinata to my sister’s memorial service, and I thought it was perfect, so I think right off the bat you should know this is the kind of person you’re dealing with here.
“Just end the world right now,” one of my friends wrote.
That was my first reaction too. But then I clicked through, and saw the photos, with their little captions, and my outrage quickly faded to bemused sympathy. The Atlantic juxtaposes the photos (which they show in full, not blocking out the faces) with snippets of classic poetry and writings on death and grieving. I’m not sure how they meant it, or what comment they were trying to make, but I think actually it works perfectly.
All the photos seem to be of young people, and while they are at first (and especially en masse), kind of crass and shocking, after a minute I didn’t feel shocked, and I didn’t feel like they were necessarily crass or revoltingly narcissistic…. I just felt like, oh, hey, here are these young people, and they’re dealing with something so major and un-deal-withable, so they’re taking photos of themselves and sharing them with their “social network” and by extension the world at large, and really, what’s wrong with that?
There is no right way to grieve. There is no right way to deal with death, and loss. If you’re young enough, and the person who died isn’t someone you really knew that well, or will honestly miss, then that’s a weird thing in itself. You’re not sure how you should feel, honestly. You’re cutting your baby teeth on the whole abstract notion of fatality, and it’s probably not really bursting your bubble too much, because part of being an adolescent is living in that protective bubble, isn’t it? You’re so young, and so vital, the fact of your existence is irrefutable. What does death have to do with you? What does death have to do with your long shiny hair, your adolescent biceps, your pert little bottom in a too-short skirt? Not a lot. Right? Right?
And, of course, if it’s the death of someone major — if it’s your best friend, or your dad, or your little sister — well then, that’s even more impossible to deal with, no matter how old you are.
“‘Selfies At Funerals’ Is The Newest Tumblr To Destroy Your Faith In Everything,” writes BuzzFeed. “Vanity knows no bounds.”
To that I say: meh. True — vanity does know no bounds, but that’s nothing new. And sure, some of those photos seem more cavalier than others; some of those kids really look like they’re taking the whole thing as a joke.
But tell me: what’s a bigger joke than death?
The biggest joke of my existence was the day my 24-year-old sister Carolyn decided to end her own life, and leave my mom and me, and the other many, many people who loved her, trying to pick up all the fucking pieces of our lives that got blown apart by the bomb she dropped. I’m speaking metaphorically, but it feels physical, literal. Pieces.
What a joke. What an impossible, ridiculous, awful, heartbreaking joke.
At Carolyn’s memorial service, part of which was held in one of her favorite pubs, we all drank beer and wine, and looked at pictures of Carolyn’s beautiful face from when she was a baby, a kid, a teenager, and we sobbed, and told stories, and, at times, laughed our fucking heads off.
It didn’t occur to me to take a picture of myself and post it to Facebook, but if I had, then who cares?
In case you’re wondering: The pinata, which I think just happened to be in my friend’s car and ended up coming along for the ride, was a donkey, and for a while he had a name, and it was hilarious, because we needed something. The room was filled with love and dear friends and Carolyn’s favorite beautiful purple tulips and lovely firelight, but we still needed something else. We needed something to release a little bit of the unbearable pressure, the drowning waves of grief, the intolerable guilt and sorrow and disbelief.
All funerals are different. Death reaches us in different ways, at different times of our lives. Some funerals might call for a pinata donkey, others for a sexy selfie in the bathroom.
Do not stand at my grave and weep, goes the line.
It’s OK to weep, though. It’s also OK to laugh.
Honestly, what else can you do?
In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.