Monday, June 18, 2007

The elephant in the room

"How was your weekend?"

It was an innocent question, but my stomach nearly dropped into my shoes when I heard it. The person who had asked was someone I've only recently met and don't know very well, and I was terrified that the next question was going to be about what we'd done for Father's Day. I thought We visited my daughter's father at his niche in the cemetery might be a bit off-putting, but neither did I want to say Oh, nothing really and make it sound as if we hadn't done anything for P, or worse, as if he'd never existed. Instead, I mentioned movies and shopping, and then the subject changed and I was saved. Until next time, anyway.

Breaking the news of P's death has never been easy. Even after I'd got through the first round of friends and relatives, I kept having to tell other people who knew P but hadn't heard, and no matter how many weeks had passed, it always hurt just as much as it had at the beginning -- maybe more so, since I'd still been in a daze when I made those early phone calls.

Now, a year out from the event, I'm meeting people for the first time and wondering how I ought to deal with this revelation. What do you say to the hairdresser who casually asks "So are you married?" Or a new co-worker whom you're going to be seeing a lot of? Or a friend whom you haven't seen in years? (While I was out doing errands a couple of weeks ago, I spotted an old friend standing outside his car near the space I was about to park in. I drove around the block twice to make sure he'd gone before I stopped, because I just couldn't bear to have that conversation.) Do you wait in dread for people to bring it up first, or do you bring it up yourself and get it out of the way? And then how do you respond when they look like they want to run in the other direction?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions, and it kills me. It kills me that ten years from now, I'm still going to be explaining to people that I had a husband, but he died. And it kills me even more that as time passes, it's going to seem less and less relevant to the people I tell -- a bit of faded trivia, like where I went to college or what my grandparents' names were. It's not that I want to be trapped in the past like some sort of modern-day Miss Havisham, forever reliving P's death and wallowing in sadness. But I don't want P to become a footnote in my own history either. He was important. He is important, if not to anyone else, then to me.

This, I think, is what makes me see red whenever I hear comments from the "she's so young, she'll go on with her life" contingent: it trivializes P and my relationship with him. It's insulting. We're not talking about a guy who stood me up for the prom in 1988 here; this was my husband, whom I knew for 13 years and had a child with. All this going-on-with-your-life business just seems like an effort to diminish the importance of that, to turn him into a passing phase, or as P himself liked to say, "not even a blip on the radar screen." I'm sure people mean well by saying that sort of thing, but it makes me want to throttle them anyway. Not that you would ever know it. If I'm good at anything, it's staying noncommital and hoping the subject will change.

So what did we actually do for Father's Day?

G and I went to the cemetery, just the two of us. I'd let her choose a flowering plant to bring, and we put it at the foot of the wall where P's niche is. It's a pretty place, with a little man-made waterfall on one side and shady pine branches overhead. We sat on a bench, and I brought out two bottles of bubble liquid, and together we sent a stream of bubbles floating up into the blue summer sky. When G got tired of sitting, she got up and twirled and skipped all around the enclosure, blowing bubbles everywhere she went.

"Each bubble is a wish," I told her.

I don't know what her wishes were, but every one of mine was the same.


writermeeg said...

It's not fair, V. @#%$^$* not fair. OK, crying now.

Humincat said...

It sounds like you are doing a great job at this, since there isn't a rule book or anything. Thanks for giving the rest of us a view point besides the end of our noses. You really remind me to keep my loved ones close to my heart.

Well-heeled mom said...

Very thought provoking. I don't know how I would handle it, but I hope with some of the grace you seem to have.

Space Mom said...

I am not sure there is a right answer.

baggage said...

I'm late, but you amaze me each day. Geo and P would be the same age and I think of that whenever I read things like this. I'm so sorry.