Yesterday I had one of those encounters with people who REALLY don't know what to say to a widow. You know the type, they rattle off every cliche in the book with very little understanding of what they're actually talking about. Furthermore, they usually have zero ability to pick up on the fact that the words of sympathy and wisdom they are imparting really aren't helping but are actually just making you more uncomfortable or upset.
I'm visiting Darwin, in Australia's Northern Territory, for a good friend's wedding and decided to fill in a morning by getting my nails done. I hadn't intended on letting it slip that I'm a widow because (a) after two years I have had more than enough of these awkward encounters with strangers to know that the 'my husband died' conversation rarely goes well (especially when you're a captive audience, with your hands stuck in a LED nail lamp) and (b) I'm trying to enjoy this weekend away for what it is - celebrating a friend's love story - rather than dwelling on the untimely demise of my own.
But, well, I guess the manicurist caught me off guard. She asked why I was visiting Darwin, and then, how I knew the happy couple getting married. I couldn't think of a suitable answer other than the bride was a dear childhood friend of my husband's and we met through him. Then, of course, the conversation evolved to the fact that no, my husband wasn't here any more - and off we go...
She really pulled out all the pearlers. From 'well at least you're young and pretty and you will find love again' and 'at least you didn't have children, that would have been so much worse' to telling me, in graphic detail, about every death she'd ever heard of... Her old colleague who'd had a heart attack while riding a bike; the teenage daughter of her friend who fell in front of a train; a story she heard on the news about a young father who dropped dead on the gold course. Yep - just the kind of light-hearted banter I was in the mood for over my morning manicure. Yikes!!
Thankfully she stopped short of asking me HOW Dan died. I was waiting for it but she was too distracted with her own morbid tales. I tried a few times to change the subject, but she was on a roll. Just as I reached the point where my need to be polite and accommodating was starting to be out-weighed by the urge to blurt out 'can we please stop talking about death!' she finally finished up and set me, and my Cajan Shrimp-coloured talons, free.
These awkward conversations don't seem to get any more comfortable but I guess, over time, I've developed a thicker skin against them. I was actually tempted to laugh as she rattled off her insensitive advice. Maybe someone should develop some virtual Widow Bingo cards so that we can at least make a game out of these horrible situations and play along at home.
In a way, the encounter was a good reminder that I will probably face the same questions at the wedding today. It's an easy 'go to' conversation starter when making small talk with fellow guests, so I'll be surprised if it doesn't come up. Given that the bride was one of my husband's best friends, I think that many people in her circle might know about Dan's death due to the fact that it also affected her so deeply. So if I mention him as being our connection, I'm hoping that I won't attract too many awkward questions.
I know I could make something up or tell a watered-down version (we met through a mutual friend?) but the thing is, I don't want to leave Dan out of this special day. He IS the reason that this woman is a part of my life and I know that the bride and groom themselves are making an effort to include him in their day.
They've chosen a reading from his favourite book for their ceremony and are asking guests to donate to a charity that helps fight suicide in lieu of gifts. I wrote a little while ago about the fact that today will also be the second anniversary of Dan's funeral, which I found confronting when the invitation arrived in the mail. But I know Dan wouldn't want me to remember the1st of August as the sad day we said goodbye. He'd be happy that it will now become the day his beautiful friend said 'I do'.
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