(Note: This is not to step on toes. This is to help me survive the grocery store. And any tragedy survivor’s inner circle should always ask–multiple times a day.)
Five weeks ago, after Greg’s open-heart surgery, when he was housebound and didn’t really feel well, I would pick him up after work and we would go sit at Ruby Tuesday’s and share an appetizer. It worked to fight cabin fever, and sometimes, sitting across the table from each other, I could feel the trauma start to slip away, could glimpse the people we once were.
One day, on the way back to the house, when I thought he had also briefly remembered, “Oh, I used to like her,” I said, “I think it would take more than a month on an island together to recover. More than a month. I’d need two weeks of just pure silence.”
And he agreed.
Of course, we did not get that. My father died by suicide days later, leaving us–once again–completely unmoored.
(If you have joined this blog for the suicide segment, but have missed the preceding anencephaly and cancer segments, you need to know this: the members of my little family are all too fatigued/wounded/calloused to comfort one another.)
Beyond encouraging one another to eat and suggesting, “Perhaps a hot shower would help?” we have little to offer in the way of assistance.
We can offer you little as well.
My father’s death has me exhausted by the simplest of questions: “How are you?“ I am asked this a hundred times a day by the kindest of people. It is, after all, the all-purpose American greeting.
It seems rude, then, to suggest this, but I believe that perhaps after tragedies that question should remain unasked for a while. These days, I can feel “fine” and five minutes later be weeping in my car. Everything is confusing; my emotions are ajumble–do I want to go eat with a friend, or do I want to lie in bed with my cat? Right now, I can’t decide between Mr. Pibb and Coke without crying–so I certainly can’t tell you how I am.
Saying “fine” after a tragedy is easy, but it’s a lie. Not only have I lost my father, but I’m watching my daughters and brothers struggle from hours (upon hours) away.
Saying “awful,” while more honest, necessitates a conversation that neither of us may really want to have–and it’s not entirely true because there are still bits of joy in each day.
Saying “sad” might make you pat me on the shoulder, and then, depending on the depth of affection we share, I might collapse crying in your arms at school or at Walmart.
And you know all this: you know I’m not fine. You know I am awful. You know I am sad. So, maybe just take a break from asking for a while.
Just say, “I’m glad to see you.” Then–maybe–smile.
In the days right after a tragedy, just be glad that the survivors are coming through the door at work or are seated next to you at church. Acknowledge their presence, but don’t question it. It’s one less answer they’ll have to search for, and they will be grateful.