Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Navigating people's responses

Some people just really don’t know what to say to a person grieving the loss of a loved one. Some people avoid you entirely. Others feel like they have to bombard you with advice. Still others say completely the wrong thing with all the right intentions.

Over the past few weeks I have heard it all. Mostly it’s, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” That’s a basic one. Some people have suggested that I, “find love again.” Others try to make small talk. Most infuriating are the ones who complain about things that seem, suddenly, so insignificant. “Wow, you stepped in dog poop? That’s terrible, my husband died.” So, that was never a direct dialogue, but it’s not far off. And it’s things like that I used to worry about. And no one in my life is wrong to be frustrated by things like stepping in dog poop. That sucks. But I don’t want to hear about it. Everyone’s problems suddenly seem so frivolous. My brain inserts, “yeah, well you’re husband’s not dead” after every mundane statement uttered in my direction.
I haven’t made heads or tails of these feelings yet, but I have made sure not to comment on them. I don’t actually rub it in that their problems are somehow less important than mine. It’s all relative.

I also realize that each and every person in my life is trying to handle me with caution. Some of them more successfully than others. Whether they say the right thing or the wrong thing, they are trying. And no matter what, I appreciate that.

There’s also an abundance of hugs. These hugs were wonderful at first. They still are to an extent. But with each new person that sees me for the first time since my life became a train wreck of newness and sorrow, I’m forced to relive the part of this process I’d just assume have behind me. The first couple of days people came and went from my house all bidding me their well wishes and offering condolences and casseroles. Every time, that first hug brought me to my knees in emotion. It was like each person had some sort of symbolism in our lives, in my life. People from work reminded me that I had to go back and it didn’t matter what had just happened to me. Jon’s friends were a reminder that he left behind a host of people who loved him just as much as I did – albeit different. His family was sort of the same. My friends were a reminder that only a few days prior, I was happily planning the rest of our lives together. But now it’s encounters with people I’m not as close to, but still care about. I have gotten to the point where I get the hug over with and immediately assure them that I am, in fact, quite fine at the moment and I would like to keep it that way.
Perhaps the most challenging part of this particular subject are the people who just don’t know. People who work in my same profession and see me on a regular basis, but didn’t get the onslaught of Facebook messages. The see me working and they want to chit chat about which city council member said what last week and such. And then comes the inevitable – “how have you been?!” This, it seems, is an impossible question to answer at this particular juncture in my life. It seems I have two basic options, I could go with what anyone who asks how you’re doing wants to hear, “I’m fine.” After all, most people don’t actually care if you had a fender bender yesterday right? It’s just common courtesy to ask. Or, I could be honest and just tell them, “Pretty awful actually, my husband died suddenly and now I’m sad, broke and alone to raise three kids, how ‘bout you?”

I’ve found that which of those responses I choose depends equal parts on a: my mood and b: theirs. Last night I bumped into an old acquaintance who I hadn’t seen in years. I doubt he even knew I was engaged. My response to his courteous inquiry was, “oh, pretty good.” Huge lie. Worse, I then proceeded to talk about Jon and I like nothing had happened – “my fiancé and I” this and “Jon hiked the Appalachian Trail” that. And then I used the lack of a beverage in my hand as an escape. I later asked my friend who was entertaining me for the evening – and also happens to be very near becoming an actual psychologist – whether that was an appropriate response to just act like nothing had happened. He assured me it was fine. When I told him that a similar run in with a complete stranger had gone the entirely different direction by me spilling my guts about the particulars of becoming a widow, he assured me that was fine also. At this point I think I could rob a bank and people would assume it was just part of the grief process. I suppose that would solve the broke part of my dilemma.

I will say this, when I don’t tell people who don’t know that this terrible thing just happened to my family, I kind of feel pretty resentful that they think I’m normal. I almost spew the news just so they look at me with the pity I despise because at least that would be real. Nothing really seems to make sense in my head anymore, so I just decided to stop thinking about it so much.