I just finished reading this book, Tell Me More, by Kelly Corrigan. She wrote The Middle Place which I think I’ve read, or meant to read, or maybe both. Anyway, the subtitle of this book is “Stories about the twelve hardest things I’m learning to say’. Kelly is hysterical, and most of the book had me in giggles. But there were moments when she got really, really personal and I felt like I was in the same room, next to her on the couch, wanting to put my arm around her while she mourned the loss of her friend, her dad, her perspective. She was real on the page.
Which is something I strive to do. To tell it like I see it. Not like it is, because come on, that truth is lost on all of us humans down here on the big blue ball. Truth, as I have been reminded many times, is perception. And usually our perceptions are pretty warped and self-serving; even if that means the version of the truth you choose to believe about yourself is defeating, it proves you right about your crappy assessment of yourself. ‘Hey,’ you might think, ‘I may be messed up but at least I KNOW I’m messed up. So I’ve got something going for me.’
Back to the book. There were two chapters that really got to me. The first was titled, “I Know” and was about the concept that sometimes when we hurt, when our souls are so tired of it all that we don’t know what else to do to function, what we want someone to say – in sincerity – is “I know.” “I’m sorry” only goes so far at times. Please do not misunderstand, I am grateful for the honest compassion and kindness shown to me over the last seven years. But pity is hard to manage and the head tilt – the one that comes right after I haven’t been able to figure out a way around telling a stranger my husband was killed – makes me want to scream.
Of course, I do it too. When I meet someone new to this whole widow-walk thing I immediately jump to the I’m sorry line and I’m sure my head starts leaning to one side as I bring all the compassion I can find that day to rest on the person in front of me. I want to be there for them, to let them know they aren’t alone, that the days will start to blend together and one day they will wake up and smile and that will be okay.
But what Kelly reminded me of are those moments when I am around another widow and I feel safe and comfortable in my widow-haze because she knows. She knows that a genuine “I’m sorry” is lovely, but some days — most days — what I want is to be understood, not pitied. I don’t want fake concern, who does? But I do want someone who can understand that most days I’m okay and then a song, or a penny, or a number on a clock will push me right back to where I was seven years ago. I might want to cry. Or laugh. Or just say hello to whoever may be watching from above.
I’m not crazy; I’m a widow. (Maybe I should make t-shirts that say that?)
The other piece that shifted my view was in the “I Was Wrong” chapter about the moment her Grandma died and she realized she hadn’t taken the time to know her. I was convicted. I love my Grandma; I mean I truly love and admire and respect the woman she is today and all that she has survived. At 90 she is living alone, with a wide swath of friends, an avid reader and a crisp mind. I am exactly half her age this year and if I become half the woman she is I will consider my life a success.
But, I don’t call enough. We used to talk three or four times a week when I lived in Germany. I had two very young children in a place where I spent most of my time alone (we lived in a small village and I was the only American around). I felt displaced, lonely, and overwhelmed by the boys who were almost solely my responsibility because Dave was traveling so much. Grandma was my life preserver. I would call her and cry about my life and she could always give me hope that it was going to get better. She too had raised two babies very close in age; she too had lived in the middle of a cultural desert (though hers was literally a desert – Death Valley to be specific); she too had a husband who was gone more than he was home it seemed. And she survived it all and raised a beautiful family, basically single handed.
I want her in my life. Her faith in humanity and a general sense of goodness is something I am missing. I need to be reminded of the importance – and power – of forgiveness. She told me once that, “Faith isn’t faith until it is all you have left.” I will admit I am pretty close to that line right now and the chance to lean on her love and compassion might just keep me on this side of God.
So I set down the book and picked up my phone and called her.
“Auggie, dear!” she answered and my heart opened and I knew everything was going to be okay. We talked about the boys, about her Sunday school class, about life in general. We laughed and at one point I cried telling her about some of the craziness behind the scenes right now. We talked more. But not in a, “So how’s the weather in Texas” sort of way, because when we did talk about the weather it led to conversations about dementia, Grandpa, and math.
Almost an hour passed and it felt like just minutes. Her voice still steadies me. Her love still changes me. But it is her empathy that brings me peace. She understands because she has been there.