If you had asked me 6 months ago who my closest friends were, my husband would have been at the top of the list. Those who rounded out my Top 5 would probably have been a bit different, however. The friends and family I would have expected to step up if things got difficult for me, might not have been the same, either. But I’ve learned a great deal since that horribly unexpected evening in early April and its aftermath. Not the least of which is there are likely people in everyone’s life that do not act in expected ways.
There have been some people who have been conspicuously absent. Old friends, people with whom I was once very close, seem to have fallen off the planet. One individual who had even been in our wedding never even reached out to say “I’m sorry for your loss”. Even though we are not close anymore, it hurt. Especially since there are many others who have, and because you don’t have to be close to someone to be compassionate.
Most of our neighbors didn’t acknowledge my husband’s passing to me, and I believed that to be because we were fairly private people. Since I hadn’t gone around telling people what had happened, I assumed perhaps they didn’t know. Then I learned from another neighbor recently that she personally told many of our “next door” neighbors and that they had already known, yet none of them reached out to me. Of the remaining people in our community, only about a dozen individuals and families got in touch to offer their condolences and to ask if we needed anything. This from a community that prides itself on its closeness and sense of family. Apparently, it’s the type of family that only speaks to the chosen ones, and I know all about that kind of family. However, the thoughtfulness of the ones who did connect with us was appreciated, and that’s all that really matters anyway.
My family and friends rallied around us, seeming to take turns to ensure we were OK. My mother still calls me almost daily just to check in, and some of my closest friends text me on a regular basis, sometimes several times a day. Some of the people I least expected (and quite honestly, some I hardly knew, if at all) have stepped up in ways I couldn’t even begin to imagine. Despite my husband’s own family not being at his Celebration of Life, he had former classmates and old teammates from his high school football team come to show their respects, some of whom had likely not seen him since those days. To my surprise, an old friend with whom I lost touch over the years reached out to me while I was sitting at my husband’s bedside at the hospital and when she came to A’s service, she was a welcome sight. The years that had passed simply did not matter.
My son’s entire soccer team, including the coach, sent a card they had each personally signed with messages of love, compassion and friendship. We received a gorgeous plant from a woman I worked with more than 20 years ago (and it is still flourishing and bringing me comfort). The mother of my daughter’s friend sent a beautiful handblown ornament with a lovely note. Cards and letters and words of condolence poured in from acquaintances, yet very few from my husband’s family.
I’ve had heartfelt discussions with individuals I’ve never met, but with whom I share this painful journey. I’ve been approached by many people who find a commonality in my blog regarding something they have either been through or are going through themselves, thanking me for being so open and sharing my story. I’ve received cards and letters from individuals on whom my husband’s life made an impact. I have many open invitations for visits and to simply “get away” if I ever find the need, from friends and acquaintances who live all around the country (and at least one in the Great White North). These things keep me going and encourage me to continue writing.
I’ve come to learn some unexpected things about people and what they think of me. While people often told A and me that we were the “perfect couple” and “so in love” even while he was alive, some of these more recent discoveries were quite eye-opening; one cousin told me she wanted to be me when she grew up because I was the “cool cousin”, and another (rather unexpected source) recently told me that my social awkwardness is likely in my head because when she looks at me she sees someone smart and capable and creative, yet doesn’t see the lack of grace and social skills I see in myself. Neither are how I’ve ever seen myself.
One of the first promises I made when starting this blog as a form of catharsis in my grief, was that whatever I was experiencing, I would write honestly about it. One of the next promises I made was that I would try to fully feel everything, no matter how painful, so that my grieving would not stagnate. Allowing myself to be this vulnerable apparently resonates with many people. They consider this bravery, yet I consider it merely obligatory. If my prattle is going to be of any purpose, I cannot sugarcoat it. It is genuine, it is honest, and it often leaves me exposed.
During an unexpected, but uplifting chat I had with a neighbor over the weekend, I came to learn that she would often see my husband and me being affectionate towards one another. Her office overlooks our driveway and she would witness our PDA each morning. She made hand gestures that looked like two individuals kissing that I took to mean she saw us canoodling in the car every now and then. She said, “I would see that and think ‘awwwww, how sweet!'” She understands what our relationship was because she and her husband have been together since high school, as well.
When I mentioned to her that one of A’s family members told me he that he chose to leave me because he didn’t love me and couldn’t stand to be with me one more minute, this neighbor became quite animated, shook her head and exclaimed, “Oh, my goodness! That is not right! He loved you! Anyone could see it. Don’t you ever, ever, let anyone tell you differently! That person is just hateful to say something like that! And they are wrong!” Then she stopped mid-outcry saying “I need to give you a hug for that!” She couldn’t believe someone would be so cruel and vicious to a woman who lost the man she loved and had been with for so many years.
It seems that being open and vulnerable, while allowing many people to understand they are not alone in their grief and sorrow and pain, also opens one up to being subjected to even more pain from individuals who, for whatever malevolent purpose, see it as an opportunity to inflict injury and anguish on others to compensate for some bitter void in their own lives.
I, personally, will never understand that point of view, and despite it making me a target for hostility and more torment from certain people than I’m already experiencing just from the loss of my partner and best friend, I will continue to be an open book here in an effort to help those who find comfort in my vulnerability. I now do this for you as much as for me… You are all a part of my healing and I thank you.
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