I stood to left of Kim’s casket at the wake for more than four hours greeting the endless stream of people and talking to them about Kim.
It was wonderful.
People came who knew her from work. Other’s came who knew her in grade school.
Some came who had kept in touch with her all her life. Other’s came regretting they’d fallen out of touch. Many of these had recently reconnected with Kim.
Some came to support her parents, my parents, Kim’s siblings. So wonderful.
About an hour in, I held up my hand to the person who was talking to me and said, “I’m sorry, hang on a moment.”
I thought I’d heard something.
Maggie was standing to my right and a woman was talking to her. A woman I didn’t know.
She repeated what she had said to Maggie, “I’m sorry about your mom. You lost your sister too. What did she die of?”
I turned to the woman and said, “thank you for coming, but you need to move along.”
The woman started to explain herself. She just wanted to know.
“Thank you for coming,” I repeated, “that’s not an appropriate question for a girl who has lost her mother. Please move along.”
The woman looked at me a bit longer. Then looked at Maggie. Then turned and moved on to talk to Kim’s brother Tommy.
I checked that Maggie was ok and then returned to the person I’d been talking to.
I know it’s difficult to know what to say to mourners at a wake.
There were people who found the right words and people who didn’t.
If you don’t know what to say, that’s ok.
Some people even say, “there are no words.”
What’s not perfect or even acceptable is to take a nineteen year-old who has just lost her mother back to the time when she was ten and lost her sister and probe for details.
I know I’m raw. I know my instinct is to protect my daughter. Some things feel over the line to me.
I remember back to a conference I went a while after Elena died. My friend Danese suggested I spend time with Robert as he’d lost a child as well.
He and I took the tram across the river in Portland and walked somewhere for dinner.
We talked about our careers, our lives, and our experiences. We had so much in common.
And then, after a while, we talked about our losses.
We talked about how wonderful other people had been and we talked about inappropriate questions.
The most inappropriate question I got when Elena died was whether it would have been easier if it was my adopted child.
That was inappropriate on so many levels. Maggie is my daughter. There’s so much of me and Kim in her that it makes me laugh most days and cry others.
“What about you?” I asked.
By then he’d told me that he’d lost both a child and a wife in separate tragedies.
“Well,” he sighed. It was the sigh of a man who’d been asked a stupid, hurtful question many times. “Well, people ask me which loss was worse.”
There are no words.