Weird Grief

by Naomi Norbez profile

2021

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Number of Reviews: 5
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
When funerals go wrong, November 22, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

This sort of entry does seem to get hammered in IFComp because it is, well, linear, and also because the characters may be part of a social community we just don't understand, though we don't want to look down on others. But it touched a nerve with me in a good way. So I found it valuable. But it's exhibit B in why I find it hard to give stars to fellow IFComp entries. (Exhibit A is that I feel like I'd be knifing a fellow writer in the back if I said nice things but then gave a below-average score.) Exhibit B is that it is hard to compare two very different works, and we know the stars are just a rating, but it's all we have to go on. And complex ratings are too obvious.

But there is a lot to like for an entry that placed so low. First, it links up with another entry from the author's. I played this together with The Dead Account and recommend you to the same, with WG first. They are good on their own but sum nicely together well, and neither takes too long to play. The Dead Account revisits the events of Weird Grief and provides some sort of closure to things Weird Grief left open. I appreciated Weird Grief not explaining everything and letting me speculate, and I was satisfied with how The Dead Account tied things up.

Second of all, the title. It says a lot in ten letters. Grief should be grief. And it hurts to be called weird in any context, with or without justification. But there's the immediate implication that some people's grief is seen as less than normal people's grief because it's "weird," when the truth is, if you don't have a huge social circle to start, losing anyone hurts that much more. I also remember hearing "That's a weird thing to be upset about" over far smaller things than the death of someone I care about. Sometimes it was followed up by "But I didn't call you weird!" So the title gives that feeling of being accused, or being lesser. Which is pretty upsetting, when normal grief is filled with cliches and so forth. It also says: sure, you can grieve, but don't be TOO weird about it, okay?

It brings back memories of snarky teens whispering behind others' back. Does the weird person know we're whispering? If not, it's weird to be that clueless about themselves and others. If so, it's weird not to do anything to, you know, become more acceptable. In this game, the weird grief certainly comes off as much more acceptable than normal grief. The people who call themselves normal seem not to realize that the grief they call weird deserves to be more because, well, it's harder to find friends if you're not normal, so losing a friend hurts more. I hope this isn't too harsh on normal people, but I think it accurately describes too many people who, sadly, lump the world into Normals and Weirds. Perhaps they even have weird friends! But not that weird.

It also brings back memories of a Life in Hell cartoon. If the name doesn't ring a bell, the author, Matt Groening, went on to make the bold move of creating a prime-time cartoon show called The Simpsons and later Futurama. One of the characters was Binky. And he had scary thoughts, like, “if people start laughing at your funeral, do you have to sit there and take it?” And the pastor in the strip said “Well, he lived an interesting and useful life, sort of.” And WG brought that back again. It was easy to picture the deceased family's liking him "despite all that" and his friends actually, well, knowing him better.

As for knowing him? Well, someone named Mike dies at 33. We aren't told why until The Dead Account. Was it COVID? A rare disease? A hate crime? Drugs? (Note: this felt like it would've been the easy choice, with maybe some discussion of the "normies" saying "well he should've known better, why didn't you stop him" and his friends protesting.) But the author avoided any details, and I think that's effective, because at the end, we realize it doesn't matter, and Mike, like anyone, doesn't deserve to have people pry if they didn't care enough during his lifetime. Or, well, his family take backhanded potshots at him and his friends at his funeral.

And while my lifestyle isn't as different from the norm as the characters in WG, I certainly have envisioned a funeral full of backhanded compliments from my relatives. This flared up with the Coronavirus. If I died and my family looked at what I did, what would I have to show? I realized I'd never shared any of my text adventures with them. I think it'd get in the way. Perhaps they'd give condescending approval, but God forbid I sit down to explain it to them, or they take time to figure it out. And I realized people who listed family members as testers or inspiration … well, I couldn't relate. I realized there were people in the community I was closer to than I was to my immediate family, and I wasn't that close to them. But I still got a lot from them. And yes, I was at a funeral where Perfectly Normal people behaved Perfectly Normal and the result was shocking. At least the people involved (including the pastor) waited until the funeral was over to agree: yeah, that eulogy was BS!

And for Mike, that seems like the best possible case, which would be sad indeed. I'm also struck by how Mike's family may say “OMG we loved Mike” but on the other hand, they don't want Mike's inner circle to be able to say the same thing.

I got something different out of it than most people on the discussion board topic that flared up. I'd rather not have sex scenes in games I play, but it seemed appropriate here. The people need to do what they can to move on, and they don't have to worry about things like "what would your family say?" Perhaps they won't do so very well at first, or they're not sure what to do, but they deserve to try. And I know I've had ways of dealing with loss that worked, and people who nitpicked them, well, they showed who they were.

WG was cathartic for me. I recalled many other things, like the sort of awful no-fun fantasies of people I disliked, people I should've liked on paper, people I hadn't seen in a long time, showing up to my funeral and remembering the worst parts. With time I've been able to mix some humor in this, and it's because of positive life experiences and reading stuff like WG that reminds me that my fears are ... well, normal, no matter what my Overall Weird Quotient may be. I remembered reading on Facebook that a middle-school classmate I learned about on Facebook had died, and how that compared to having no grief over a teacher I disliked, one I should've liked on paper, who died and that was a different sort of weird grief, only it wasn't weird at all, and in fact it helped me move on.

I took an hour to reflect after Weird Grief, and I was able to bend some bad things--people laughing at me, fearing people laughing at me--not weird grief, but potentially weird regret and weird fears--into something funny. No, Weird Grief isn't intended to be funny, but it helped me find humor, and to me, that's more effective than straight-out comedy.