Mourning, Elections, and Choosing to Be Kind

After you study the issues and candidates, cast your vote, and learn the election results, please remember this:

Be kind.

Regardless of the outcome — win or lose, rout or run-off — the individual people in your life are more important than the people elected into community, state, and national political offices.

(You might be asking, “What does this have to do with grief and the bereaved?” Keep reading. We’ll get there.)

voted

(This sticker was from an earlier local and primary election. I’m going to the polls on Election Day. Will there be lines? Probably. But that’s okay — people-watching is always instructional.)

I don’t mean to imply that politics don’t matter. I take the opportunity to vote seriously. When I was a child, I watched my mom research the issues, attend rallies, and question candidates. This was long before the Internet allowed Google-speed searches. She invested her time — lots of it! — and her intellect in making informed choices to better our neighborhood, city, state, and nation, all the while instilling in me the responsibility to do the same.

Over some election results, Mom rejoiced; over others, she mourned — though never to extremes. No gloating, no berating. No in-your-face chanting or ranting.

I emulated her example with my children as they grew up, dragging them with me to pick up and turn in petitions, voting before or after school (so they came with me into polling places), explaining my choices beforehand and while awaiting election results.

After Mom died, when questions of politics arose, her overwhelming absence overshadowed my interest in doing as she’d taught me. I still went through the motions of researching, but the process felt hollow — as did much else without her.

However, it wasn’t until after her death that I learned how much farther her influence spread beyond what she taught me. In the first half dozen years after she died, I received phone calls — more than I counted — from people she’d met and networked with. For years, they’d sought her out during every election cycle, asking, “What do you think of so-and-so?” or “How do you interpret the meaning of such-and-such?”

She’d never told them how to vote, but she freely shared the information she had gathered and let them make up their own minds. So after she died, they called me, (rightly) assuming I did the same kind of research.

Over time, elections triggered fewer painful reminders of her absence and offered more opportunities to reflect on what a great woman she was. That became my secondary focus as I researched.

When my husband died, everything political blurred. I still cared on some level, but it was a level so far below the surface level of mourning — where I tried to survive — I may as well have been reading campaign signs without my glasses. (Reading anything without my glasses means I see only colorful, impressionistic, wordless blurs.)

Raw with shock and grief, I scarcely remembered to pay the same bills I’d managed before. I couldn’t pick out a box of cereal or loaf of bread in the grocery store without bursting into tears. Political research became a low priority. Campaign calls to my late husband’s phone, which I couldn’t yet make myself turn off, felt like daggers to my already torn heart. Contribution solicitations addressed to him made me want to stop checking the mail.

But that wasn’t the worst part.

What hurt the most as a newly grieving widow was the bitterness, rancor, mudslinging, and nastiness of political arguments. I didn’t mind honest, open-minded debate and discussion — still don’t — but I couldn’t stand the unkindness — still can’t.

Strangers attacking strangers — on social media, at rallies, over the radio. Family members fighting over philosophical disputes. Candidates calling names and contending.

Ick. Yuck. Eew.

When you’re grieving, the worst thing in the world — the death of your loved one — has already happened. Your world is upside down. The last thing you need is arguing and animosity over politics.

When you’re mourning — immersed in the hurt and anger of loss — you can’t abide meanness. You’ve been forced to acknowledge that life is too short for such negativity.

When you’re not bereaved yourself, it’s easy to forget that all around you — in person and online — there are folks in various degrees of mourning loved ones. People you know and people you don’t know, all facing their own grief over death or divorce or health …

So, please, please …

Please keep politics in perspective. There will be future elections. But many are mourning loved ones who won’t be with them in that future; they’ve got enough to handle without being surrounded by more negativity.

No matter the outcome of this election (or others), be kind.

___

For more about mourning and politics, see Taboo Topics When Someone Dies — Part 1, Politics

Taboo Topics When Someone Dies–Part 1, Politics

Some topics are off-limits when a friend is grieving. Do you remember the classic dinner conversation advice given to prospective business associates (or future in-laws)? “Never discuss politics, religion, or money.”  Keep this in mind as a starting point, but to support mourning friends I recommend expanding the list.

Unless the mourner asks you, or unless it pertains to your already established professional relationship, don’t bring up politics, religion, money, physical appearance, or legal status. 

The rest of this post tells why you shouldn’t bring up POLITICS.*

Keep in mind that no matter how devoted the bereaved (and/or the deceased) may have been to a cause in the past, the surviving loved ones’ world has changed. It doesn’t matter that you and your coworker may have made lively political debates as much a part of daily lunch breaks as clocking out and back in again. For your grieving friend, in the initial shock of new grief, community or state, national, and even global concerns may shift into a distant blur.

Grief’s omnipresence overwhelms other concerns. To the newly bereaved, issues of political concern aren’t spelled P-O-L-I-T-I-C-S; they’re spelled P–loss–O–grief–L–loss–I–grief–T–loss–I–grief–C–loss–S–grief. (If that seems hard for you to read, think about how hard it is for your grieving friend to live.)

Perhaps the deceased was actively involved in political processes (campaigning, debating, petitioning, running for office, or simply following the nuances of opposing parties’ claims). Survivors may feel impelled to take up their loved one’s unfinished work and step into their footsteps — or they may actively avoid the entire realm of politics. Such activities may be far too painful (“too close to home”) as they grieve and adjust. Persuading (or worse, guilt-tripping) mourners to step into (or out of) the political arena does them a disservice. No one representing a political cause (or party) has the right to claim what the deceased “would have wanted.” Ever.

On the other hand, some survivors may need to immerse themselves in political processes. Perhaps circumstances surrounding the death of their loved one could have been prevented had legislation, policy, or decision makers been different. Working and fighting for related changes can be therapeutic and can help grievers direct or channel their pain — not remove or heal it.

If your mourning friend approaches you, by all means listen! Offer to help if you see the point of the changes they want to make. However, if you disagree (and when it comes to political matters, even reasonable, like-minded people can have passionately divergent opinions!), now is not the time to argue or debate the issues with the bereaved. For the mourner, the politics and the emotions may be inseparable, so don’t go there.

My husband loved our country’s political process. He watched (and argued at) the televised debates. He was passionate (and a bit one-sided) about campaigns and platforms. One of the things he loved about me was that I took the time to study the issues on the ballots and the candidates running for office prior to every election. After his death, it took what felt like superhuman strength to do even the most superficial research and to decide issues. I could not (and still can’t) abide the rancor of the adversarial debates. It was (and still is) repellent. Yes, I know the issues are important, but the mud-slinging is too great a reminder that “life’s too short” for that much anger.

___

*I’ll talk about the other taboo topics — religion, money, physical appearance, and legal status — in upcoming posts. (And yes, I appreciate the irony of talking about things you shouldn’t talk about.)