Should I write the dead guy's family a letter? February 13, 2006 9:10 PM   Subscribe

Weird update to the should I write the dead guy's family a letter AskMe. For the many who were interested.
posted by CunningLinguist to MetaFilter-Related at 9:10 PM (25 comments total)

wow, that's really fucked up.
posted by puke & cry at 9:21 PM on February 13, 2006

wow. crazy. maybe she's in the middle of a sort of loss of mental faculties, and is given over to taking notes when she wants to have a record of something she's not sure she'll remember.
posted by shmegegge at 9:24 PM on February 13, 2006

posted by TwelveTwo at 9:27 PM on February 13, 2006

Radio-play fascinating. Sad and all, the backstory, of course, but still: fascinating.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:28 PM on February 13, 2006

"his hair hadn't ever been white before"
What's with that? Weird.
posted by tellurian at 10:06 PM on February 13, 2006

I guess that's a lesson not to get tied up in the "cinematic" experience of someone's dying when such an event has important real-world emotional and/or legal implications for so many other people.

I'm little annoyed by the "what-a-powerful-experience" tone of the post (I had to wonder why someone would be enthusiastic about sharing the details of someone's death with grieving relatives - I'd expect this to be an odious task), but it does a good job of sharing the whole event, including the ways it defied expectations, and it made me think once or twice.
posted by scarabic at 10:08 PM on February 13, 2006

"his hair hadn't ever been white before"
What's with that? Weird.

That bit totally creeped me out.
posted by juv3nal at 10:31 PM on February 13, 2006

Sounds like some relatives are being coached by ambulance chasers. The moral of the story is "run away and don't look back."
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:04 PM on February 13, 2006

It does sound a bit like someone trying to build evidence for a suit, but it doesn't have to be.

It sounds like my post-stroke grandma. Yeah, she's weird, but she laughs about it. Forgetful, but still sharp as a tack and able to reason and query sharply - at her age or any.

Yet she'd still call me by my deceased uncle's name - her son.

We look quite alike and are about the same size and same color and I'm closer to the age he was when he died a decade or so ago. I asked her if she wanted me to continue correcting her when she slipped and called me by my Uncle's name.

She said something along the lines of - paraphrased and redacted - "No, that's ok. It's my mouth that keeps messing it up. The thought/image in my mind when I'm saying it is you. I guess the mental images are so close that the words are stored nearby and I keep grabbing the wrong one."

Like I said, she was still as sharp as glass if one took the time and care to listen properly.

So, it's not so weird, really, about the mis-remembered hair, the not-exactly-realistic self image, the possibly clinically demented questions. Pretty normal in the grand scheme of life, intelligence, self awareness and all that. Read Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.

So, we get old. We die. It's part of life. It doesn't have to be mournful or unpleasant, not that it shouldn't be those things. But it doesn't have to be.

And there's nothing that says one's response has to be emotional, passionate or even unclinical.

Especially not after four years and not if someone was trying to get the most personally useful information out of a phone call the best they knew how. Perhaps in an intentionally distancing and dispassionate way to protect themselves - which in itself can be interpreted an emotional response.
posted by loquacious at 11:29 PM on February 13, 2006

Sounds like some relatives are being coached by ambulance chasers.

Maybe, maybe not. And it doesn't have to be a stroke or dementia, either. A friend of mine died last summer in a solo motorcycle accident while a friend watched in the car behind; his roommate and close circle dealt with the passing by organizing a thoughtful and beautiful funeral service, meeting the mother and siblings who traveled down, doing all the work for them, doing everything they could to make the family understand how much the guy had meant to us.

The family's response? The mother started whispering to the cops and funeral director that the roommate had killed their son for the insurance money (which barely covered the cost of the funeral), demanding that some kind of investigation be done. It was utterly bizarre and infuriating; we tried to understand it by saying 'grief does strange things to people,' but couldn't help worry at the same time. Luckily, the cops seemed to understand what was going on and after a couple of interviews dropped the investigation.

It was horrible, and I still haven't forgiven the family. hermitosis did the right thing, absolutely, but the oddball reaction should probably just be tucked away in the 'grief does strange things to people' file.
posted by mediareport at 11:58 PM on February 13, 2006

But then the questions began to sound very meticulous and terse, as if I was giving a legal statement. One of the first questions was, "Why exactly did you wait so long to contact us?" which I answered very humbly. But she immediately moved on. When I said he fell backward, she sounded surprised and made me repeat it several times. She asked very specific questions about the CPR we administered, and even asked me for information about other people at the scene, such as their names (which of course I don't have). She asked me how many EMT workers were there and what were their names and what each of them were doing. She asked me to tell her exactly what they did to him to revive him. I was very uncomfortable describing it so clinically.

I agree with the Mayor
posted by matteo at 1:20 AM on February 14, 2006

are you sure youi got the right guy?
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:34 AM on February 14, 2006

Wow. Someone call Ira. Seriously.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 3:16 AM on February 14, 2006

Soon to be a major motion picture.
posted by crunchland at 4:03 AM on February 14, 2006

Mayor Curley: "Sounds like some relatives are being coached by ambulance chasers. The moral of the story is "run away and don't look back.""

I disagree. CL, you did nothing wrong. In fact, you did everything absolutely right. (Well, maybe you could have asked some questions and taken some notes of your own, like the caller's name, phone number, and relation to the man.) But say you had had the Mayor's advice before this happened, and you had done something different: not sent a letter. Would you rather have done nothing?

The woman who called you, whether she's a post-stroke or otherwise demented or just angry wife or something, she's not the only surviving relative. And I'm sure there are others who are just glad to know there was someone caring at his side at the end.
posted by Plutor at 4:28 AM on February 14, 2006

there's nothing that says one's response has to be emotional, passionate or even unclinical

I agree and that cliche about grief doing strange things to people is very true. I've had a lot of encounters in the past with relatives following deaths in the emergency room and they are always powerful moments with a very wide continuum of response. Clinical processing is an often used protective 'guise' people adopt.

4 years is a long while for sure but any reminder, as with receiving a letter out of the blue, might easily propel someone back to their immediate state after hearing about the death.

And particularly if for instance it was a daughter or neice who maybe feels some level of guilt for not having seen the deceased for quite a time prior to the death. They might become assertive to bolster their confabulating the history for self-protection, if you follow.
posted by peacay at 5:18 AM on February 14, 2006

CL, you did nothing wrong.

Just to clarify, I only posted the guy's answer - I have nothing to do with this except being fascinated by the unexpected resolution of the question.
And I second calling Ira Glass. Hermitosis, if you have an okay radio voice, it's a natural.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:36 AM on February 14, 2006

Thanks for the tempting suggestion, but I was rattled by all this to just enough to make me hesitate over immediately broadcasting this story anywhere where his friends or relatives might recognize it... especially if there is some unknown legal issue, or the woman really was crazy.

I'm glad though to hear everyone's opinions about this, however, because my own are pretty useless. I'm especially kicking myself now for not finding them right after it happened-- who knows what would have been different about this conversation if it had taken place then?

If I need a lesson from this, that's it.
posted by hermitosis at 6:29 AM on February 14, 2006

Don't kick yourself, hermitosis. Everybody is human and files things away for future reference, or doesn't make a particular decision at a particular time. Everybody has the opportunity to change their minds and try something different. We have all been in positions where we've had that choice in front of us, and you made the right choice by contacting her now. Thanks for sharing the choice with us, and I salute your compassion and thoughtfulness. You should be hugging yourself, not kicking.
posted by By The Grace of God at 6:38 AM on February 14, 2006

Sounds to me like the woman may well have been his wife and therefore old. If she had dementia or something that might explain the incessent question-asking, and also the "he wasn't old/didn't have white hair" thing - she might have been remembering him as he was years ago.
posted by Lotto at 9:28 AM on February 14, 2006

hermitosis, thank you for the update. I was very curious whether you had followed through. I don't see anywhere you misstepped; there are usually things one wishes one had done. If there's any lesson to be learned it's that life is often quite mysterious and events don't often go as we expect.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 9:30 AM on February 14, 2006

That was fascinating, please do TAL it. That'd be great.
posted by graventy at 11:37 AM on February 14, 2006

I suppose you don't have caller ID (or if you do, it was unenlightening)? (At least, if you're concerned about whether this woman was for real...)
posted by Gator at 11:44 AM on February 14, 2006

Caller "Unknown". But she definitely had my letter, which had been forwarded by the mortuary. And what's strange about a lot of her questions is that I had gone into great detail even within the letter itself.

Everything about his death made sense to me when it occurred (other than a medical team trying to shock an 82 year old man back to life, but that's a whole other matter). So it's very strange to have been grabbed onto by someone for whom nothing about the death makes sense and be put on the spot to try to solve it for them.

Also she told me virtually nothing about him, other than that she was glad I was with him at the end, because "otherwise he would have just died at home alone." So even now I still only know a few scant details (interesting as they are) from his obit.
posted by hermitosis at 12:19 PM on February 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm not trying to be critical, but why didn't you ask a few questions while on the phone? Like "who is this, please?" I wouldn't talk for that length of time about those sorts of details with a completely unidentified person!
posted by Justinian at 12:50 PM on February 14, 2006

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