It starts from the inception. The stacks of Hallmark cards piling up. You must, or at least you should- write thank you notes. In fact, at the weakest time of your life, your days are full of social graces. Because you are wholly dependent on others for a while, you are full of thank you’s. It is humbling and it seems to go on and on. It’s a good thing really because if you didn’t have anyone to thank, that would obviously mean you’re all alone. But it’s tiring.
After the first year- the time begins when everyone likes to believe “you’re fine now.” So the social graces become more nuanced…in the first year an acquaintance asked how I was at Audrey’s soccer class and I answered, “Shitty.” When she seemed taken aback and asked why, I responded, “Oh you know the whole husband dying thing- still getting over that one.” In the second year, some of the inhibitions come back (probably a good thing) and you don’t do this. “Oh fine, thanks, and you?” This is what I teach Audrey to respond when people smile and ask her how she is and this is what I too am expected to reply.
I am to make chit chat with the other moms while picking up our children from preschool- most of them pregnant or with another small child in tow- as if we’re on the same page and thinking about the same things. Um, my daughter was talking about seeing her dad in heaven when she dies at breakfast- yours? I am to get out of my car and wave and smile even though I’ve been crying in that car at the meter outside Starbucks, wondering why why why why why why why. “Hey- how are you?” “Oh, you know- fine. You?”
I am to smile back when grownups give me that knowing “isn’t she cute” look when Audrey is prancing in front of me in her fairy wings. Yup- she is, but things aren’t exactly as innocent as they seem. I am to take my change with a thank you when the cashier says, “Here you go honey,” and I feel angry that I’m still being called the diminutive “honey” cashiers use to empower themselves (I know, I’ve been one a few times) when I feel about eighty years older than they are. I still have to rsvp on time to invitations of events I cannot attend. I still have to chip in for birthday presents and dinners for people who I feel have everything they could ever want or need. Their family is intact. I still bring little hostess gifts or bake something when I visit someone’s house and I’m still expected to say “Oh no problem,” when people cancel on me.
The social graces are harder and take more effort than ever now because the longer this goes on, the more I understand that unless someone has been here, they have no idea of the inner world of pain we live in. It’s a lot like being kicked out of your home but being told you still have to pay property taxes. And because when you really start to get the reality, you have a hard time finding your place. By virtue of what you’ve experienced, you’re isolated. Where do you belong? Where do you fit in? Can you still park in the “family section” of the parking lot at church? Are you considered as much a of a mother as those who have two or three children? Can you sit and chat about pregnancies and school activities as much as the next mom? How do you relate to the young pastor’s sermon when he keeps talking about how no one wants to be weak before God and fall on their knees when you are on your knees every day?
How does one interact with others when your perspective is now so incredibly different? They are glorying in pregnancy- I am feeling anxious that they have so many kids- what if something happens to their husband? They are wishing they could have some time alone- I am wondering how long it would take for someone to find me if something happened to me and Audrey couldn’t call for help. They are shopping for a suit for an event- I am thinking everyone must have a suit to be buried in just like the one I got out of the closet for my husband to wear. The one I liked the least- so I could keep the others…as if the one who’d wear it was only an impostor. An impostor. They are calling me to sub for the coop parent that morning- I am afraid to pick up a phone that is ringing at a time when no one usually calls from an unrecognized number. They are preaching about heaven and how it’s hard to long for it as we should when we’re comfortable here. I am longing for it with each breath.
Am I overly morbid, pessimistic, dark? I don’t believe so. My perspective is based on something incredibly, painfully, real. It becomes more real each day and I wish I didn’t have it. I wish I had a smaller perspective…one that included what I should wear that day rather than what lies at the edge of the universe. But like someone bound to a wheelchair after an accident- my perspective is just different- and I’ve come to realize- the thing I was waiting for- for it to just go back to the way it was- won’t ever come.
It’s a lonely feeling when you recognize that most people you interact with on a daily basis live in an entirely different world than you do. And yet, if you don’t step up and at least appear “normal” you do yourself the disservice of isolating yourself even more- which wouldn’t matter so much if you didn’t have a really cute three-year old who loves people so much she gets disappointed when the people coming to look at the apartment you’re being pushed out of cancel. “But I weawy wanted them to cooome!” It’s another case of this really sharp navigating you must do: I don’t want to be inauthentic and have never been less than genuine (too genuine according to my husband who would scold me telling me if I didn’t like someone it was written all over my face), but the fact is, I cannot show the state of my heart most of the time. People don’t want you to, “play the widow card,” as we say in our circle- for too long. You don’t want to be a burden. You don’t want to be always sending thank you notes. Self-pity- does not lead to quality writing. So, yes, sometimes I will be the woman talking to herself in the drugstore, and sometimes I’ll just stay in my car when it’s time to pick Audrey up and read a book about heaven rather than chat with the “moms.” But “for the most part,” I’ll change and dress my wounds at home and keep them invisible out there. They are mine.