Friday, January 3, 2014

I Didn't Tell a Friend -- Maybe Because She Wasn't

The other day in Walmart, I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in years.

That could be the beginning of a lot of stories. It is the beginning of a lot of traffic jams and sometimes aggravation for Walmart shoppers, but at the same time virtually everyone's path crosses at Walmart at some point. I once ran into the guy I had a crush on in the 11th grade at Walmart, which wouldn't be such a huge shock if he didn't actually live in Tennessee.

The friend I ran into on what was virtually my first time away from home since Ethan's death more than two weeks ago was carrying a toddler on her hip and asked if I'd seen her husband, which I hadn't. I was pushing a cart loaded with the youngest granddaughter while the older two were burning off some pent up energy by running up and down an aisle. Years ago, one of her sons and Ethan had spent time together at church and our homes. She drove the school bus that carried him to elementary school. We were members of the same church, although I haven't seen her there recently.

Do you want to know what we talked about? Would you care to guess?

We talked about babies. Turns out the baby on her hip wasn't her newest grandchild, but a little boy she's adopting. She wanted an update on my granddaughters. I held her little boy so she could go to the restroom (her reason for looking so desperately for her husband).

Neither of us mentioned Ethan.

I don't know why.

There is a very real chance that she didn't know, although it seemed that the news spread fast. We're not even Facebook friends any more, and I don't know that she keeps in touch with her former church family or reads the newspaper to see his obituary. I'll have to admit, if something had happened to one of her children, I don't guess I would have known.

But she knew my little boy from the time he was seven and the bus didn't come on the first day of school, because the boy who lived here before us was also named Ethan, and she knew he'd moved. She saw him every school day and at church on Sunday. He sometimes went home with her to play Nintendo with her sons. We sang together in the choir. When our children were older, we sat together and caught up on where they were and what they were doing.

Yet she never asked about him, and that omission tells me she knew, but just avoided the conversation. She never even asked how how I was, firmly keeping the door closed on that conversation. She may have been sorry that she bumped into me, and had it not been for the toddler and her need, she might have took a turn down an aisle before I spotted her.

I get that. Really I do. People think they'll upset you by asking. Talking about it will make me cry, whether to a friend or a total stranger, like the nice lady from Northern Hospital calling about the payment I forgot to send the week Ethan died. But not talking about it doesn't make the pain go away.

While I'm willing to give her a pass because I understand if she was reluctant, I'm still struggling to understand why I didn't tell her.

It's not that I'm unwilling to talk about it, or even that I don't want to examine my pain. I've discovered that I'm perfectly good at baring my soul when it comes to this. I've discovered that it helps me deal with and work through it. I've discovered that it's a whole lot better than pushing it down inside where it would simmer and leave me unable to help not only myself, but anyone else.

Her reluctance, or more accurately avoidance, I understand at some level. You don't want to poke at another person's pain.

Accepting my own complicity in pretending that my life is OK, however, is something new for me to deal with. Realizing that I'm not going to bring it up, even when it should be perfectly acceptable to do so, is something I'm still processing.

Yet, I know it's a common reaction. Out of my friends and acquaintances who I've known for years have lost children, there has only been one who would honestly share their pain and I know that honesty sometimes has people turning away. Honesty has a price that we may be hesitant to pay.

I think we also come to realize rather quickly, that some people we once considered friends aren't really. They shy from our pain and are eager to accept our lies when they're forced to ask how we're doing. It's amazing how quickly we can sense the sincerity in a question, and surprising who will turn out to be our true friends -- not necessarily the people we might have expected, but not only the people who understand our grief either.

Our lies and silence when talking with people who don't fit the bill for true friends are also an act of kindness and self preservation on our parts. I feel like I'm carrying around a big bucket of pain, and that I don't want to splash it on someone nearby who isn't prepared to deal with it. At the same time, although my tears are healing and never in short supply, I'm not sharing them with just anyone. Only people that I feel really care will get to see me cry.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Angela, this is a story that has repeated itself for generations and is yet to come for many more...

    All of us who have gone through the death of a child have faced this situation in some form or another. What I have come to realize 23 years after my child's death is that some people just don't know how to talk about death, and just as many are afraid of it. When you add in the loss of a child, it becomes so incomprehensible to some, even those that we consider to be our closest friends, that they just cannot bring themselves to discuss it...

    Sometimes these people are afraid for themselves (that they will break down in public), some times they are afraid for us, the grieving (that they will cause us to breakdown and thus face embarassment or more pain) and sometimes they truly, truly, just don't konw what to say or where to begin...

    I have friends and family who still, 23 years after my son's death, will not speak a word when my husband or I mention his name... What I have had to come to terms with is that it's not that they don't care, it's just that they don't know how to care...

    All my very best to you and yours in the days and months ahead... (and a few hugs, if you're a hugger!)

    Yours in healing...