When my grandmother died not long ago, at the ripe old age of 97, I was very sad. Here was a woman who had loved me all my years, a woman who I remember with every cell in my body, who was the linchpin of my large flawed family and had the sweetest Geordie/Irish accent you’ve ever heard. I posted a picture of her on Facebook, with her twinkling, smiling eyes. “At least you had her for so long”, commented one friend.
“At least you had her for so long”!! Just because she was a great age when she died? Does it mean I should love her less? My 1 year old cousin only had her for a year. Would you say at least you had her longer than he did, that somehow one year of love is worth less than fifty? Does it mean I won’t miss her as much? Are you envious because your grandmother died sooner than mine?
When my best friend died, an acquaintance said, “Oh at least you got to see her a lot before she died”. And if I hadn’t, what then? “At least you got to have dinner with her six months ago, before she got sick, before she died” (Oh yeah, great. Lovely). “At least you didn’t lose more than one best friend” (Oh but I did). “At least she died with her family around her” (um, no, we weren’t all there). “At least you have shared memories with others (no, she held the memories). “Well, at least…” Jesus Pollyanna, shut the hell up with your platitudes and ridiculous “at leasts”.
You hear it a lot in the face of tragedy and sadness. “At least he was unconscious”. “At least you got home in time to see your father, (ravaged with disease and delirious with pain)…before he died”. “At least her daughters were in their twenties when she died. At least they had a mother to grow up with”. “At least they had wills…imagine if they didn’t”. “At least the baby was born and you got to hold him…before he died.”
“At least”…. It’s a term used to add a positive comment to a negative situation. People like my acquaintance, Pollyanna Perfect, say it all the time to make people feel better. It’s part of her stock standard patter. But you know, it also means “at the minimum”. You should clean your house at least once a week. You should service your car at least twice a year. At least I saw her once before she died. At least I saw her when she died. At least I went to her funeral. At least I remembered her birthday.
“At the minimum, you saw her (once) before she died”. “At the minimum, you got to hold the baby (once)”. “At the minimum, you got to the funeral (once)”.
“At least” diminishes. Repeated and repeated, statements lose all meaning. At least you saw her before she died. Why is that comforting? Why do you assume that comforts? It doesn’t. I want to see her now, alive, talking, laughing. I want her to remember me. I want to make new memories with her.
At least you have old ones.