I have been very prickly, lately. They say things get easier with time. Six and a bit months later, things have certainly not got easier. They are different. And it’s hard to explain exactly what that means. What is different is having to accept that you never know – really – what will trigger an emotional response.
At the beginning of December, I was at the opening of the McGregor Art Walk. It’s an event that had been in the planning since February or March, and when that began, it was with The Husband’s full support. He was supposed to have been at that, and other, events over that weekend. Needless to say, I was flying solo that evening. That’s not new, but it’s most certainly different now. People’s conversations with me are different.
Pleasantries dispensed with, “I so admire widows and widowers….” she gushed.
Something in my brain clicked. I have absolutely no recollection of the rest of conversation other than that I somehow had to extricate myself from it, and move on. Once the formalities of the evening were done, I bade the host farewell and confessed, “I have to flee…” Mercifully, she understood.
I retreated to my usual Friday haunt and shared the gist of that conversation with a friend who lost her life partner a few years ago. She was aghast. As I had been. I spent the best part of the next couple of days, vacillating between bridling with incredulity, and reflecting on whether my reaction to the word “admire” was appropriate.
I did what I always do, and consulted the dictionary:
This is what Collins told me about admire:
Word forms: 3rd person singular present tense admires, present participle admiring, past tense, past participle admired
1. VERB B2
If you admire someone or something, you like and respect them very much.
I admired her when I first met her and I still think she’s marvellous. [VERB noun]
He admired the way she had coped with life. [VERB noun]
All those who knew him will admire him for his work. [VERB noun + for]
Synonyms: respect, value, prize, honour More Synonyms of admire
2. VERB B1+
If you admire someone or something, you look at them with pleasure.
We took time to stop and admire the view. [VERB noun]
Synonyms: marvel at, look at, appreciate, delight in.
When I read the first definition, I began to second guess my reaction . Then I read the second and which is the context – and which connotation – I usually associate with the word. I cannot – and could not – reconcile either pleasure or delight with the unwanted condition of widowhood. In my understanding, when one admires someone – like a firefighter, nurse, or teacher – it’s aspirational. Unless one aspires to being a mariticide. And the woman said it with her husband of at least 40 years at her side.
On reflection – I’m doing a lot of that – I realise that she was probably less admiring of the condition than of how the widow appears to getting on with things. It’s taken me nearly a month – and a second conversation – to get to this realisation.
I had a catch-up conversation with a client last week and it included a brief look back at the year, which from a work perspective has been a relatively good one. He thanked me for my contribution – especially given what had happened this year – for not dropping the ball. He concluded that it – how I coped – was an inspiration.
Why, I asked myself, had I not balked at that remark?
Again, I went to the dictionary, and before I did, I realise that the comment had context: he (and the team) – as far as anyone can – had shared my journey. We had much more than the perfunctory conversation that happens when you happen to bump into someone. There was empathy, compassion and concern which, when my house was burgled, translated into practical and material help. And, with all that, they gave me space to work at my own pace which enabled me to continue meeting deadlines – and earning. I needed the work for other reasons, too it was more than a necessary distraction. It helps to give my days, weeks, months, shape. A real reason to get out of bed.
So, when I reflect on the context of both conversations, I’m struck, again, at the power of language – to break down – and build up. It also reminds me of the sports’ rule: play the ball, not the player. Yes, I am now a widow, and perhaps that’s why I had such a knee-jerk reaction to that comment. One doesn’t sign up for widowhood and if one has the misfortune to lose a life partner, even though you think you are, you’re never prepared. Nor is one prepared for the journey that is mourning. It’s different from any other, and until one embarks on that new
path, one cannot even dream of beginning to understand.
Now, I must look to the sunrise each day, and start all over again. On my own.
Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
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