“I’m sorry. I just can’t. It’ll destroy me,” I tell my boss, following advice received in response to texts sent minutes prior.
“It’s okay,” she whispers, “You don’t have to.”
“Thank you,” I explain, “Small talk will ensue, my mind will wander – it will set me back.”
“It seems like your mind wanders sometimes in budget meetings,” she agrees.
I nod. I fight tears. My shoulders shake. I cover my face.
She gets up, walks past me, and shuts her door. “It’s okay,” she reassures me, as she returns to her desk, “I expect you to feel this way.”
“Some people don’t get it,” I choke out, “But I’m still fragile.” I sob more, “I’m sorry I’m such a mess. Her phone call surprised me – her cheery tone. It’s why I just can’t.”
“It really is okay,” she reassures me, “It’s not part of your job anyway.”
I stand in her office, continuing to reiterate, through tears, how difficult everything is for me – further explaining why THIS, in particular, would jeopardize my psychological well-being.
“This” isn’t what you’d expect. This isn’t holding a friend’s baby or attending a child’s baptism. This isn’t visiting the hospital or the cemetery. This is lunch with my boss and two of our financial service providers, with whom I’ve worked closely for six years.
About a month ago, I’d tried it – lunch with other financial services providers, and it went poorly. It happened on a Thursday, following an especially shitty Monday-Wednesday.
Monday, I face planted outside San Sai on a crowded downtown sidewalk. I was holding my San Sai bag and drink, when my foot caught the curb, and I plummeted to the ground. I severely skinned the back of my right hand, including every single knuckle, and both elbows. My hand took the brunt – it swelled and bled immediately, the wounds deep and oozing.
“That’s some wicked road rash,” AB noted, “It looks like you were in a motorcycle accident.”
I laughed it off, but it hurt.
Tuesday, Mark left for a business trip. It’s difficult for me to be alone now.
And Wednesday evening, I attended support group. I was shaken by a new attendee’s story – it seemed especially dramatic, and I left feeling renewed shock over the crazy shit that happens.
At support group I listened as one attendee explained, “I come here because most the world sucks with grief,” unaware how that’d be illustrated for me at lunch the next day.
Additionally, my wounds became infected – I poured hydrogen peroxide in them each day. They hurt more than my C-section incision had. But, by Thursday my hand was more presentable – wounds scabbed over. Still, Thursday I wore a long-sleeved shirt that’d hopefully hide my hand.
I dreaded lunch. I’d spoken with my neighbor about it – explained I’d initiated most the conversation in years prior. She suggested I discuss innocent topics – the weather, sports…
I decided to attend – my boss would be happy I tried, and I’d eat free.
At 11:20am, five of us congregated outside my boss’s office. One co-worker I hadn’t seen since June greeted me enthusiastically, “Hiiii!!! How ARE you?!?!”
“Hanging in there,” I answered flatly.
Does she remember what happened?
We approached the elevator and stepped in. I remained silent. They chatted.
We exited the building and started walking. I trailed behind with a co-worker, a man I also hadn’t seen since June. Still flustered by my other co-worker’s enthusiasm, I remained silent. And so did he. The trek to the restaurant seemed endless. Another co-worker shifted towards us, engaging my male co-worker in conversation – I was relieved, but rattled.
Does he remember what happened?
We entered the restaurant – I lagged behind. Four financial service providers greeted my compadres and eventually greeted me. I feigned a smile, and we exchanged pleasantries. Each handshake, to my severely wounded right hand, was more bone-crushing than the last. I winced.
Holy shit. Are they trying to inflict more pain?
It was ridiculous, but it still seems, sometimes, the universe is conspiring against me.
Where the hell did they go to business school?
I sat at the end of the table, across from my boss. We each sat next to a service provider. And on the other side of each service provider sat other co-workers. I scanned the menu. Chatter ensued.
Only chicken sandwiches… I’m not eating bread right now…
We ordered drinks, and the chatter continued.
Should I order a chicken sandwich with no bread? Also, I don’t want fries…
“Can I take your order?” a waiter interrupted my deliberation.
“Chicken sandwich – no bread, no mayo, no fries” I replied.
“Oh, aren’t WE fun today?!” the waiter asked rhetorically.
You fucking asshole – I’m ordering a breadless sandwich because I’m trying to lose weight. After a pregnancy ending in the death of my child.
The group completed its orders and settled into conversation. Eventually we received our food. Besides the pleasantries we’d exchanged and placing my order, I’d remained silent. The service providers hadn’t addressed me either. A riveting conversation on fall colors and utility bills began.
Do they know what happened? If I ask how they’ve been, they’ll ask how I’ve been. Then I’ll have to lie. And I don’t lie.
“So beautiful,” I muttered in agreement with those noting the beauty of fall.
An awkward pause ensued.
“So, how have YOU been?!” the female service provider next to my boss asked a nearby co-worker.
Thank God she didn’t ask me. If she asks me, what should I say? Well, you know… It’s been hard… Or, hmmmmm, not the best summer of my life…
“And how was YOUR summer?” the same female service provider asked my boss.
OMG! I’m next. She’s going to ask me. What the hell am I going to say?
“Yes, with all our crazy schedules, it was so difficult to set this up. We had SO MANY conversations about it,” my boss explained.
I received the invite two weeks after Matthew died. I accepted tentative. They’ve avoided speaking to me. I’m the only one whose summer they haven’t asked about. Oh my God. My boss told them what happened. That’s why they won’t speak to me!!!
“Is that a tattoo?” the female service provider gestured towards my scabs.
“No, I fell,” I answered.
“Oh my Gawwwwd!!! Are you okay?” she asked, obviously concerned.
“I’m fine,” I replied.
She’s concerned about my hand… But not about my loss…
“A woodpecker pecks at my house, so I throw tennis balls at it,” my male co-worker explained.
“I live in a condo, but I have a gnat in my kitchen,” the male service provider next to me joked.
“I once found a starving guinea pig in my basement,” my male co-worker one-upped him, as everyone erupted into laughter.
“Haha,” I faked a chuckle.
They have NO balls. They’re scared of me. I’m not participating. I’m not telling them my story about Howie bringing dead bunny rabbits through his doggy door into my bed – the story that’d trump their LAME ASS STORIES.
“Have you been to the new IKEA?” my boss asked me, interrupting my thoughts.
“No,” I choked out.
We’d purchased Matthew stuff from IKEA – his dresser, a light fixture for over his changing table – the table Mark had painted with his dad. Matthew would never use it. Will I ever go to IKEA again? I can’t cry. Not here. Not in front of these people!
The IKEA conversation continued. Tears filled my eyes.
Lunch eventually ended, I endured more bone-crushing handshakes, and we headed back to work.
I cried that afternoon. A lot.
If they didn’t know my story (less likely), did they wonder what’d happened to me? The girl who’d been most lively at the table last year, initiating conversations. Did they wonder why she’d gone silent and cried about IKEA?
If they knew my story (more likely), how could they be so cruel? To ignore my loss. To engage me in a stand-off – refusing to talk to me, as I refused to talk to them. All it would have taken was an “I’m sorry” at the beginning to avert all that.
I concluded they must know. And, that, yes, most the world SUCKS with grief. And it’d been too early for me to venture outside my “circle of trust”.
So I’m not doing it again – lunch with financial services providers who likely suck with grief.
I’m not doing it after the service provider who called to extend an invite seemed overly cheery, as though nothing ever happened. I’m not doing it after, in all my nervousness, I accidently told said service provider I’m “doing well”. I’m not doing it after said service provider seemed to believe I may actually be doing well. And I’m not doing it when the other service provider invited has yet to acknowledge my loss.
I’m not doing it again – engaging in a stand-off or worthless small talk. I’m not pretending I’m okay for the benefit of these loose acquaintances, only to make excuses for them later – that most the world sucks with grief. I’ve been lucky to find enough who don’t suck, so I’m not doing this.
“Do you want to just email them?” I ask my boss.
“That’s fine,” she responds, “I’ll just tell them you’re not available.”
“Let’s just be honest and tell them I’m not ready,” I suggest.
“Okay,” she agrees.
GOOD! I’m not allowing them to pretend I’m okay for their convenience.
It all seems self-centered, amiright? My “appropriately acknowledge my loss, or else” ultimatum when the world doesn’t revolve around me. But it’s not that effing hard – an “I’m sorry”. That’s really all I’d expect.
Those who’ve walked alongside me can vouch for my capacity to discuss other things now. I think they see my genuine interest in their lives. And it is genuine. And it’s because they don’t suck – they’ve acknowledged my loss and my pain.
But with people who suck, I just can’t. Maybe we’ll lunch next year. But not right now.
And I’m not sorry about it.
I’m sorry Matthew died. And I’m sorry most the world is so hard on the hurting.
But I’m not sorry for protecting myself in the best way I know how – from people who suck.
15 thoughts on “People who suck”
Wonderful post. Very compelling. I hope you can receive an e-hug from a stranger who can relate. 😉
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Thank you so very much for reading and for your kind comment!
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The world does suck when it comes to grief. Sending you a big hug!
People don’t know what to do, they are uncomfortable and therfore just avoid mentioning it if they can and it sucks!
Well done on saying no and looking after yourself. I’m no good at that so I appreciate how hard that must have been for you x
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Yes, it was very hard but so glad I said no. It really would have been awful to sit through another lunch like that – I’m thankful I spared myself.
Wow, I had an almost identical experience when we went to dinner with my husband’s boss and his wife (who, to top it all off, was six or seven months pregnant). People do suck at grief. They may not be bad people, but it just seems like they completely lack common sense sometime.
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Wow – so sorry you had a similar experience. It sucks. Yes, I agree, often these are not bad people at all, but because I am in such a fragile place, I still find myself just not being able to handle them. Maybe in a year. But definitely not now.
I love this post and I hate it at the same time. And I kind of want to punch your lunch mates.
People are so afraid of grief. Like can’t-touch-it-avoid-it-at-all-costs afraid. And baby grief seems to be in a league of its own. Even scarier.
I have people whom I see every single day at work who have yet to mention Josie or offer a hug or an “I’m sorry”. At first it really, really pissed me off and now it’s kind of like this game I never wanted to play. How long will it take for you to mention that my daughter died? It’s been nearly two years. And counting…
I’m so proud of you for “not giving in” and offering your awesome story about Howie, which would have TOTALLY trumped all the others. I’m proud of you for realizing that’s exactly what was happening, and for staying true to how you were feeling and not attempting to make them feel more comfortable, which would have caused you more pain. You don’t ever have to pretend that Matthew didn’t happen, or that his impact on your life is anything less than it is…for anyone. ANYONE.
I still find small talk exhausting, and meaningless. I wish that I had refrained from trying to assimilate back into my old ways and conversations with my old friends as quickly as I tried to. It took me awhile to realize that I wasn’t ready, and it was extremely painful to see how fast everyone seemingly expected me to resume. I needed the space, and I didn’t push for it at first. I’m so glad that you are doing that, on your terms, for your healing. It is not bitchy or wrong, it is necessary and it is responsible. Plain and simple.
Love you, girl.
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Thank you for your sweet comment 🙂 Screw those people who never acknowledged Josie. I’ll be playing that same game at work, I’m afraid. And thank you for affirming the actions I’ve taken to protect myself. Sometimes I think I’m being extreme, but life is so difficult without Matthew, I tend to just do whatever feels right without too much thought. But I second guess myself all the time.
Love you, friend.
I’m so sorry for the loss of Matthew.
I am the cousin of a friend of yours, and I lost my daughter almost a year ago- an hour after her birth.
I’ve really enjoyed reading your very honest thoughts. I completely relate. I tried to adopt early on the mindset that I would be a friend to myself; that I would pull back if something didn’t feel okay. I still found myself doing too much too soon.
I stick with my safe tribe too. And I also can discuss other things with people who have really walked it with me. But there will always be the people who wait until you are ready to come play again. They are off my radar.
I know the pressure of the social engagements and the agony of small talk. I still avoid all of the things I can a year later. Enthusiasm is such a turn off; I remember getting texts from people who used exclamation points and thinking how painful the intensity of their texts were to me. Especially those damn emojis.
Anyway, it’s a hard thing, finding the balance between loving yourself and going at your pace and holding others accountable, and yet not letting it become your worst enemy. I distinctly remember keeping mental notes of everything people did that hurt or sucked and then forming my tribe of the least of the offenders after that.
Really though, aren’t we just alone? At the end of the day, I carry this.
Take care, and keep up the writing. You’re brave.
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Hi Erin, Thanks so much for reading and for commenting 🙂 Yes, I know the friend you are talking about – she told me about you. I am so very sorry for your loss of your little girl, and I think of you and your family often.
I share all your thoughts. I’m great at sticking with my safe tribe. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m too good at it. I don’t really want to drive people away, but life is just so hard for me in general right now, I continue to err on the side of caution. You’re absolutely correct that it’s tough to find the right balance. I struggle with it daily.
Yes – enthusiasm can be such a turn off. I laughed when I read you exclamation points comment, because I had made that comment in my scheduled “grief read” post today. I was really upset by texts with exclamation points. All I could think was, “Matthew died, how could they do that?!” I’ve calmed down a little, since, but in those earliest days it was rough.
Yes, sometimes, I feel, at the end of the day, we’re alone. But we’re not. We have each other and others who’ve experienced this horrible tragedy. I’d prefer none of us be connected, but I’m thankful to have met some amazing women. So I go back and forth between thinking I’m not alone, and I’m so alone. In any crowd of “normal” people, though, I always feel pretty damn alone for sure.
Thanks again for reading and for commenting. Sending love and light to you,
I have had so many experiences like this too. I think people don’t know what to say so they don’t say anything.
During the time I was on “medical leave,” not the maternity leave I had planned after Lydie died, a coworker broke his leg. We had always been friends and when he returned to the office, he came to see me. He went on and on about my leg and said not one word about my daughter. All I could think was “your f-ing leg will heal.”
That’s just one example.
A year later, I find I am much more willing to forgive the people who said the wrong things than the people who said nothing at all.
And now, I also interject more about my grief and Lydie, on my own.
Nora’s right that you should keep protecting yourself. I did that a lot and I am very glad.
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OMG @ that story about the leg!! People are so weird! All it takes is an I’m sorry. I agree that I often forgive those who say the wrong thing (unless it’s super heinous), but it is more difficult to forgive those who say nothing. I also will talk about Matthew – if someone’s uncomfortable, oh well…
I am glad to hear you protected yourself, and it worked for you. I’m going to continue to do that – it feels right. And life is too hard right now to NOT protect myself.
Thanks so much for your comment.
I’m sorry you had to go through that. I had a similar experience on returning from paternity leave. https://shoeboxfullofmemories.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/returning-to-work/ I left the job soon after and my new workmates were so welcoming and kind it made all the difference. when they saw me glaze or tear up I would be whisked away to a quiet room or the pub to talk if I wanted or not if I just wanted a break.
I hope you have found people like that to help you deal with the ebb and flow of grief.
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