Number 13: It's the human response. It's either overly saccharine, because giving sympathy makes them feel better, or they ignore you, because hiding from mortality makes them feel better.
Wilson: Why can't they just say something that makes me feel better?
Number 13: Like what, exactly?
- House "Holding On"
There are two responses to finding out that I'm a widow that continue to stump me.
The first is the, I suppose completely proper, and more common "I'm so sorry for your loss" or some deviation that includes an apology. It's that apology that throws me for a loop.
I usually either say thank you or just nod and kinda bow my head in acknowledgment. "Thank you" seems both right and wrong at the same time. It's a 'yeah, I heard you and appreciate the thought' but it's also feels like I'm saying 'thanks for my dead husband'. Look, I know I'm not thanking them for my dead husband just like I know they're not apologizing for the fact that I have a dead husband. I get that. It's just a way for them to express sadness for my sadness. And it's just a way for me to say thanks for that expression. Still feels wrong to say "thank you". So mostly I just duck and nod.
The second response that trips me up is the "how did he die" question. It's always followed by this moment where I stare at them as wrap my mind around the fact that a perfectly innocuous, and usually pleasant, conversation just took a turn to the most painful and private part of my life. After the pause, they realize that something is a little off in the conversation and so follow up with some slightly embarrassed version of "just curious". That's the point where my heart quits sinking from the sadness that my conversation with this person is over and changes to being pissed. Royally pissed. Because now they've just flat-out admitted that the most private parts of my life are cocktail chatter, that I am the evening's entertainment.
What I usually manage to bumble out of my mouth is some version of "I don't (like/want to) talk about this" and then wander away as soon as I realize I have feet, which can take awhile. I say that to people I am most likely to run into again, friends of friends, etc.
What I really want to say, and have said to complete strangers on a few occasions is "how big are your tits/dick cause if you're interested in my most personal details I feel it's only fair that you fucking dish up as well." I want them to feel as shocked and as verbally raped as they just made me feel. Mostly it doesn't work. They just stomp off feelings post-justified in having been so invasive of my personal life. Kinda a 'she's such a bitch I don't have to feel bad for being a total ass to start.' Doesn't stop me from wanting to say it, though.
And I'll admit, I actually have to hold back on that tit/dick response Every. Single. Time. someone asks me about Steve's death. I'll admit one other thing. It doesn't make me feel any better to say something nasty than it does when I stumble out whatever version I can manage of 'thanks but no thanks, not sharing tonight'. There's just no response I've found that can put things back to feeling right after having been violated.
Recently, my mother reminded me of something my brother says that I'm going to try out. Here it is: "I'm trying to have a nice time here" and then he walks off. I'm just hoping that I can remember both the line and that I have feet in the moment. Cause mostly I'm so shocked, violated, sad, and angry that I couldn't tell you my name. But I'll give it a whirl cause the questions certainly aren't going to go away.
Which begs one last question: what is the best thing they could say? And ya know, I don't have the answer cause I have yet to hear it. But if I stumble across an answer, I'll be certain to share.