I met a recently widowed woman in the doctor's office the other day. We talked sadly yet conspiratorially. I nodded as she mentioned having trouble trusting herself in public as she was concerned she would either throw up her hands and scream at all the ridiculous and vacuous frivolity that seems to go on in the world unnoticed by 'normal' folk or break down and sob gut-wrenching tears when faced with the choice of buying whole milk (her dead husband's favourite) or skim.
As I drove home after giving her my number and strict instructions to call if she needed to, I dredged up some of the partially archived memories and thoughts from those very early widowed days. I remembered how annoying and labour intensive every small task was and how I felt that I could see through the inane societal expectations.
I remember the suggestion that filled me with confusion and, somewhat, with anger was a family member's insistence that I begin to write thank-you notes. Everything within me screamed bitterly at this implication.
I was and remain very thankful of everything that had been done for, given to or assisted with for the remaining members of our little family. I was so touched and comforted by those who came by (although I was unable to greet them as I was more prone to laying in my bed staring at the imperfections in the drywall). I felt humbled by the empathy and kindness of those who loved us and even of strangers. I was relieved that my children were being fed because I was unable to make anything for them. People's generosity was a balm to the aching 'alone-ness' that I felt every second after he died. I was grateful. I still am. I will always be....even for the actions of those who I do not remember...either from the lack of ability to concentrate post-Jeff or from the sedative effect of the meds that the doctor had prescribed.
But I still feel that marking these acts of kindness and generosity with a card is brutal and hard.
When you're well and upbeat it is not a difficult feat to buy, write in, address and mail a small note letting the generous party know that you appreciate their thought. You have plenty to say....and often, you have a helper (husband or wife) to assist in the daunting task.
Weddings, birthdays and other festive events are truly wonderful moments in our lives to be chipper and express our grateful nature. Our eyes are smiling, our hearts are joyful and the generosity of others is given to share in the joy of others - not for the needs of the heartbroken.
I believe that the birth of a baby is cause to celebrate....but it is a bit iffy in the thank-you note department. The last thing I want a dear friend to have to do while their new baby finally sleeps is to have to write me a letter saying 'Thanks for the stripy green sleeper. My son barfed breast milk on it last night'. I'd be pleased if they used that moment to have a bath, eat some nourishing food or take a nap themselves.
I felt that somehow, in a warped way, my thank you note was creating the image that I was thankful for this situation. That this disaster that had caused the flood of casseroles and flower arrangements was to be celebrated. But I felt quite the opposite. I was horrified to be in this predicament facing down a life alone with two tiny kids in tow. Every breath was marked by reliving Jeff's death....and here I was writing a missive expressing my gratitude for the kindness bestowed upon us because of his death. "Thank you so very much for your kindness and generosity at this very difficult time..."
But I became obsessed with these notes. I had stacks of them ready to mail at all times. I was so very concerned that someone who had sent something or called or visited had not been given their 'dues' and been noticed or mentioned upon these pieces of card stock. I'd worry that they didn't know how thankful I truly was. I'd attempt to come up with some ingenious or creative thought. I'd stay up so very late into the evening with ink staining my fingertips trying to express my gratitude....and loathing every second of it.
So now, I wish that instead of handing this new widow my phone number with instructions to call if she 'needs' me, I wish that I had told her that if she felt that these tokens of gratitude were entirely necessary, I would write them for her....or instruct her that those who have empathy for what she is going through would tell her that these notes were a waste of energy. That those who were doing it with a truly generous heart would know that she was grateful and comforted. No note needed.