We were word people. We both loved words so much that my husband was forever making up his own puns – and himself up cracking in the process. We watched Jeopardy and did the crosswords – competitively of course. I kidded him about being the grammar police. It’s hardly surprising then that words can also make me scratch my head, thinking ‘what’? Really?
As I stood in line at a wake this weekend for the wonderful young son-in-law of a dear friend who lost her own husband as well, I couldn’t help thinking of what I would say to this heartbroken young wife. I knew her since she was a teen and it seemed more than important that I say something, anything that spoke what was in my heart. I knew most on that line behind and in front of me might be thinking the very same thing. Don’t we all want to speak words that make sense of the unthinkable? Being so recently in her place myself, I know how impossible that is. I know it is as hard to receive most words of awkward consolation as it is to say them. Sometimes, seeing their struggle, we often want to comfort — those who comfort. We all want so much to say what is comforting, gift verbal pieces of our heart and sometimes just mumble odd sentiments instead. We say tired clichés. We offer what we’ve been conditioned to say, hoping somewhere in there, the person who’s hearing the words knows that our clumsy attempts at consolation are heartfelt. They do. Because let’s face it, we all are awkward – even those who’ve been on the receiving end of well meant words.
Maybe the next time we yearn to say what’s in our hearts, we’ll measure the words differently. Maybe we can hear them as the bereaved might. Maybe we’ll even say no words at all because sometimes silence is better than words and phrases like:
‘He’s free of pain now’ Well, that’s for sure, isn’t it? But whether people would rather check out of the life they loved rather than have their pain, we will never know is true.
“He’s in a better place” In my husband’s case, I kind of think the ‘better place’ would have been on the edge of the ball field cheering on grandchildren or in sitting his little collection room setting up toy knights. But maybe that’s just me.
“Be grateful for all the wonderful years together” To be sure, I am grateful for every bit of time we had together. As marriages go, ours may be shorter than most having barely missed our 10 year anniversary. But we had a love that transcended many challenges and squeezed out every bit of fun and good we could. As far as ‘all the wonderful years’ that most marriages have before illness parks plops down its unwelcome butt, that’s debatable. What we did have was laughs, tears, extraordinary sharing, scary times and love to the max. To us, that had to be enough. And in the end (no pun intended) it was…and it will never be.
“At least it was quick and painless.” Without a crystal ball no one, who is ever certain death is painless, as much as we’d like to assure ourselves. We speculate that my man’s death was quick, hopefully painless. But then knowing the pain in the years before, it all seems relative. And painless or not, to someone who always liked the last word, a speedy exit with no warning was probably not his first choice.
As time goes on, maybe the vision of him in a new dimension of PR glory will actually ‘unbreak my heart’. Maybe the pieces of me that miss his singing in the shower (almost.. lol), making each other laugh, his happiness to see me at the end of the day and mine that he was next to me will find comfort knowing he is indeed ‘free’. Maybe for that lovely young widow standing so elegantly holding the hands of her two little girls, time will one day hold a healing presence. And maybe our fixation on words well said won’t matter.
But that time isn’t now.