Friday, April 10, 2020

Unexpected reminders

None of us can control what will remind us of something, nor the timing of those reminders. When it’s a good thing we’re being reminded of, we don’t care, but when it’s a bad thing? Well, reminders are there, regardless, and they can come in the most unexpected ways and times.

On Monday I made myself a roast chicken dinner, which I blogged about yesterday. The chicken and potatoes were in the oven and I was sitting watching TV. My phone was on the table next to me, so I saw it when I received an alert (photo above). It was enough to make me want to cry.

Every weekday, Nigel would ring me on his way home, often somewhere around 5:30, and ask me, “what’s for dinner?” He might text me with the same question if he was free in the afternoon, or if he was held up for some reason. So when I saw that alert, particularly at the time it came through, I was instantly carried back to those betters days, and reminded yet again of how much I’ve lost.

Such reminders are common, and probably more often than not they’re equally simple and even banal. Their ordinariness doesn’t in any way reduce their impact, though.

I might hear a song, see a TV commercial, unpack a moving box with something that, like those other things, reminds me of my loss. I may cry, or I may not, but either way, I’m there. Again.

And that’s the thing about profound grief: It’s absolutely impossible to avoid or hide from reminders of our loss any more than we can hide from the loss itself. This is probably why it’s so common for people to try to avoid talking about the person lost in front of the one grieving, but that’s the worst possible thing they can do.

I’ve talked several times about how no one needs to know the “right” words to say to a grieving person, that it’s enough just to listen. There’s one more thing that I think helps, and it’s something that becomes more important the farther we get from the moment of loss: Talking together about that person we’ve lost.

I’m lucky that many people in my life have (correctly!) gathered that I’m open to talking about Nigel, my grief, and pretty much anything related to those. If someone asks me a question, I answer it, as best I can at that moment, because I work under the assumption that anyone who doesn’t want to know won’t ask questions. I have no problem with people who don’t ask questions for whatever reason, but I hope it’s not out of fear of upsetting me: Silence upsets me, not talking.

I absolutely love it when people tell me anecdotes about Nigel, the sorts of things I can’t necessarily know about because I wasn’t there. It may be a work story, or maybe about randomly running in to him one day, or stories about stuff before he came into my life—literally anything. I love such stories because it adds even more depth and dimension to the man I loved so dearly. Since I can no longer add such things, those stories actually give me more of Nigel, and I’m grateful for that.

I also hope people will continue to share how they’re feeling and dealing with the loss of Nigel, about when they have bad patches and how they reacted and coped with it. When they do, it’s a transcendent moment for me: A burden shared is a burden halved, and all that, and as I’ve often said, being concerned about and interested in the welfare of others helps to lift us out of ourselves.

I have my own realities, just as other grieving people do, but for me hearing stories about Nigel helps me to step out of my grief over losing him, and back into the warmth I had with him, and it helps me to focus on the good and the happy, and not on the one unimaginably bad thing. People sharing their own struggles reminds me I’m not alone (and, I hope it reminds them of the same thing). That’s why I call it a transcendent experience, something that’s pretty rare in these days of grief.

Right now, while we’re in lockdown, the opportunities for such sharing are minimal. That means that the effects of unexpected reminders like I had earlier this week can be greater than usual. Still, because I’m in a different space than I was six months ago (literally and figuratively), I’m not always as affected by such reminders as I was back then. Sometimes they make me cry, sometimes they don’t. I don’t actually need any reminders to remember my grief, so whether I have any reminders or not is kind of irrelevant to how I feel at any given moment.

In any case, reminders are there, regardless of how they affect me, and they often come in the most unexpected ways and times. And that’s okay. I don’t need a reminder for that fact, either.


rogerogreen said...

The banal stuff can be brutal. There was a blogger named Dustbury who died last year. I was fond of him personally, (We emailed back and forth.) Anyway, there was an article about Rebecca Black's sexuality in the NY Post's Page Six. (He was oddly fascinated by her) I decided I needed to email it to Dustbury, and I'm sure he would appreciate it. ,And then I remembered I couldn't and I started WEEPING, about the death over six months ago of someone I never met in person. It must be the COVID... https://pagesix.com/2020/04/09/friday-singer-rebecca-black-opens-up-about-sexuality/

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

This plague is making things much worse for everyone feeling the loss of someone. While the goal is physical distancing, not social distancing, in reality the first pretty much inevitably leads the second, and that's hard on everyone.

There was a time several months ago when someone told me something and my first thought was about how I couldn't wait to tell Nigel. This was maybe a week or two after he died. "Oh, right…" I thought to myself when reality popped back into my head. Sometimes that still happens. I guess that sort of thing is inevitable.