Friday, July 25, 2008

"How are you?"

Yesterday a guy from the gas company came to do a routine check on our gas meter. He rang the bell and I answered the door and greeted him. He said, "hi, how are you?" Without batting an eye, I said "fine." Then I noticed he had tears welling up in his eyes, and he motioned to the faded picture of Natalie and the notice of her passing that we still have posted on our front door. I immediately knew why he looked like he was about to cry. I sighed and clumsily said, "well, fine is all relative." He said, "that just breaks my heart."

I showed him the basement and after a couple minutes he reemerged with the information he needed. He apologized for upsetting me, as I was getting teary-eyed, too. I said, "No, I appreciate it. It's nice to know people care." And then he left.

I never know when something is going to hit me like that. Living with this grief now, as it comes in waves, is very unpredictable. One minute I may be "fine," and the next, I'm a blubbering mess on the couch. People often apologize to me for what they perceive is "reminding" me of it. I always feel bad that they must think they've said something to upset me. But it's really impossible for anyone to "remind" me of it. I can't escape it. And it's nice when people give me an outlet for it.

I am grateful to the National Grid guy, whose name I don't know. Grateful that he was moved enough to take the time to acknowledge Natalie and our tragic loss. In some ways, it would have been easier if he didn't say anything about it, but I would be left feeling like the world doesn't care anymore. And that's an extremely painful thing to deal with. I am always grateful when people say Natalie's name, or have the guts to ask me really how I'm doing.

The standard greeting of "how are you?" is so loaded for me now. Most of the time, I just say "OK" and leave it at that. In other cultures, there are outward signs to show when someone is grieving -- wearing all black, an armband, etc. But it doesn't work that way in our society. It's an awkward feeling sometimes.

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