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Grieving is Rarely Timely

Grieving is Rarely Timely

Examination of Dying at the Right Time and Release of Grief Interactive Bot on AWS Partyrock

Published Feb 16, 2024
Many die too late and some die too early. Still the doctrine sounds strange: ‘Die at the right time.’ “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche [1]
While we cannot determine the hour of death, we often hope to die at a certain age. Singers rhyme about folks who go too soon while philosophers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, mused on when it is best to die. Beyond those who put pen to paper, everyone seems to discuss ideals of growing old and fading off to sleep.
Ironically, one philosophy professor argues that Friedrich Nietzsche might very well not have had his envisioned good death as he did not live long enough to achieve his goals and lived too long to achieve his ideal state of death [2], while the authors of The Worm at the Core declared that Ernest Becker died before he could fully build out his ideas and thus before his time [3].
Despite our lack of control over time, we seem to fantasize about ideal times to die. My friend was concerned with pursuing a PhD as she feared that she would be too old to make another time-intensive decision when she could spend time continuing to build upon her current legacy. Thus, we need to challenge harmful stereotypes which complicate grief and place unnecessary judgment on deaths of young and old loved ones alike. To do this, we should also consider younger deaths because it seems, to quote singer Margo Price, “being born is a curse [but] dying young is worse” according to society.

This Onion Bread

Baby loss is like an onion dropped into our life's dough. We may have started out ready for a nice, comforting bakery loaf slathered in buttery goodness. But then came the onions, and the recipe changed. …
And so we continue to knead. Every day. The onion is still there. It is no longer a separate ingredient in our lives; it now is part of our definition. We're all still bread, just like we are all still parents. But now we are onion bread.
Excerpt of “Onion Bread” by Corrine Heyeck (pp. 71-73) [4]
To better understand child and baby loss, I believed it was important to read these powerful words by parents who have experienced it. I am not a parent, let alone a parent who lost a child, and so I knew such a book would be most beneficial as it is truly unimaginable for me.
Enter “Three Minus One”: A compilation of stories that provide a narrative for parents who lost children while they were pregnant up until they were three. This book was inspired by a father who lost his own child and subsequently produced a Facebook film on his grief entitled “Return to Zero” which gained a loyal following. This culminated in his followers’ stories which would be compiled into this book. Throughout were visceral, vulnerable accounts of what grievers felt: Jealousy of other parents who sometimes were impatient with their living children, and even anger at those who seem to have moved on while time stands still for them.
It seems to me that we might accept an adult loss, even if young adults, as less tragic than a loss of a child. We grieve death in time of what was, what currently is, and what will never be. Yet with children, grief is especially harder because our thoughts seem to focus on almost entirely, if not exclusively, what will never be. To hold these pieces from a shattering of what ought to be and present reality of what is. This is grief at its rawest.

This Unfinished Life

Thus, we try to give meaning to these unknown and prescribed timelines of life. Some individuals think that our date and time are predetermined [5] while others, like that philosophy professor, might chalk it up to luck. Regardless of whether we believe we can delay or find ways to better pinpoint the hour of our death, it seems that nobody is fully in control when their time comes. While some folks might be frightened by this prospect, I believe that this fact could advocate for us to live well while we still can, and as I told my friend, that we will always leave behind an unfinished life. So instead of trying to find more time, perhaps let us use this time that we are given to live more fully.

Grieving Well

If you are grieving: Give yourself time, give yourself space, and, perhaps most importantly, give yourself grace.
If someone is grieving and wants you to share space in silence with them, then do not hesitate. Do not fill that space with meaningless words as there is meaning in the silence.

AWS Partyrock

Check out this AWS Partyrock Remix located here to help generate discussions and to get started at: https://partyrock.aws/u/sneakygrief/n6_eCVUhi/Grief-and-Loss-Interactive-Learning-Experience
This AWS Partyrock Remix enables the person to tell their own story, or the story of another person, to help them make sense of grief and loss. The chatbot summarizes their thoughts, points out 2-3 potential feelings, and gives thoughts based on famous thanatologists, such as Kübler-Ross (Five Stages of Grief) and Worden (Tasks of Mourning). Participants can then continue in the chat section to ask things such as, "What if the person does not feel like talking?" to begin to understand the importance of unique and personal journeys of grief.
To this end, I hope we can start a discussion around grieving well rather than creating unhelpful, hurtful expectations around how and when to die well.
Note: I originally intended this article to be created during my independent study in my final semester of my Master of Social Work program at the University of Michigan. However, these articles sat in a Google Drive with nowhere left to go. Like Partyrock “remixes” generative AI prompts, I decided to remix this article as this might be no better time than now to repurpose it for this hackathon.

For More Information, Visit:

https://www.dougy.org/ - Bereavement Resources for Children

[1] Nietszche, F. (1883-1892). Thus spoke Zarathustra. Ernst Schmeitzner.
[2] Rempel, M. (2009). “Dying At The Right Time”. PhilosophyNow. Last accessed June 11, 2023 from: https://philosophynow.org/issues/76/Dying_At_The_Right_Time
[3] Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (2015). The worm at the core: On the role of death in life. Random House.
[4] Hanish, S., & Warner, B. (Eds.) (2014). Three Minus One: Stories of Parents' Love and Loss (3rd edition). She Writes Press.
[5] Ask the UMC. (2020, March 30). “Is our time of death predetermined?” The United Methodist Church.