Just Say “Hello”
Sometimes in the circle we talk about ways we are greeted, things people say – and things we wished they’d say.
I remember going to the dry cleaners and seeing an old friend just getting out of his car. I hadn’t seen Tom for over a year even though we live in the same neighborhood. And so I went up to him quickly and we embraced. It was one of those rare happy moments. Everything fell away and I was fully in the moment, simply enjoying the pleasure of seeing an old friend.
“Tom, how great to see you!” I said as we came out of our hug.
“Robin, how are you?” was his reply.
“I’m great,” I said. My response was genuine. I was happy to see Tom; it made me feel great.
“You’re great?” was his reaction.
And then I remembered that I hadn’t seen Tom for a year – not since my daughter Camila died. So I understood: He had expectations. I should be sad, bereft.
And so I did the easiest thing: I adjusted my face. For a moment, I let him see my sorrow. And then, as we embraced again, I patted him on the back to help him feel better.
I think of Tom’s plaintive reaction every time someone sees me and does the emotional double-take. I watch as their natural first glance is usurped by a crestfallen face-fall. I understand that the person is expressing their grief for me, but I also think a part of their response is based on the commonly held assumption that this is how to greet someone who is grieving.
People in the circle say, “Just say hello.” Or “It’s great to see you” or “I’m so glad you’re here.”
If you can, focus for that moment on me, not my loss. Help me make it through that moment.
Maybe, because of your kindness, the next one will be easier.
2 Responses to “Just Say “Hello””
It’s uncomfortable being caught surviving.
I have experienced the same situation and always feel so mixed. On the one hand I’m glad they’ve acknowledged the loss, but then feel the acknowledgement somehow puts the burden on me to give the loss the the gravity it deserves right there, in the moment…no matter what that moment was before they “joined it”. I’ve resigned myself to knowing that no one who isn’t me will ever get it right, which is a huge relief. I can’t be bothered by anyone else’s comments or questions when I admit to myself that even I can’t say exactly what it is that I wished they had said or asked.
Thanks for sharing this Robin.
I really like your take: don’t look for people to get it absolutely right. I guess it’s fair to assume that seeing me – or anyone who has lost a child – will remind the person of loss, and they will react within that moment in their particular way. It’s two separate responses: whatever mine is in that moment and whatever they bring into that moment. Maybe we can comfort ourselves with the simple concept of humanity: we both feel something and it translates into caring.