What Did You Inherit?

BY: Carol Staudacher

 

One month ago, I lost my partner of 30 years. Since his death, I have been plunged, like so many other survivors, into the immediate demands such a loss produces--the planning, the problem solving, the comforting of others. Beyond that, there's the need to handle all the tedious, essential, and often overwhelming unfinished business of his life. As any survivor knows, it's a grinding process of interactions with friends, acquaintances, vendors, lawyers--a painful addition to the misery of longing and sadness as I take the steps necessary to keep my own life going.

As difficult as all these challenges have been, I knew to expect them. I was not prepared, however, for a particularly unsettling situation that occurs with disturbing frequency. I have been astonished to find myself confronted over and over with a question that both offends and confounds me. In a variety of ways, and with a fascination that appalls me, people ask,"What did you inherit?"

How could anyone consider the possibility of material acquisition more important than the hole in my soul?

Though I have written repeatedly about the intrusive curiosities sparked by death, I never realized before how terribly cruel such questions can seem. To one who would give anything at all, any material possession imaginable, to have the loved one back for five minutes, the question of inheritance is both incredible and agonizing. So it is not a question that merely asks for basic information; it is a question that inflicts presumably unintended pain.

The final blow came last week when a woman acquaintance saw me crying as I left the photo shop where I'd learned that my film had not turned out, that the last photographs of my loved one were blank. When the acquaintance asked what was wrong, I told her about the death. She stepped up close to me, leaned forward, then asked, "Did you get any money?"

Dumbly, I stared at her as if she were a ghoul. How could anyone consider the possibility of material acquisition more important than the hole in my soul?


Carol Staudacher is an author and grief educator whose regular column for Beliefnet focuses on the adult grieving process. Her books include 'Men and Grief,' and 'Beyond Grief: A Practical Guide for Recovering from the Death of a Loved One.'

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