Just a couple of weeks ago, I woke up as usual and reached for my phone, a safe distance away from my head and tapped the Facebook icon. Yes, that is the way most mornings begin for me nowadays. What I read made me bolt upright and rub my eyes, as cliché as that might sound. A girl who I was best friends with at school more than 10 years ago had posted a RIP to her husband as her status. The pit of my stomach felt hollow as I read through disbelievingly and then reread it. She is younger than I am and though I do not know how young her husband was, he was probably not more than a couple of years older than I. I don’t know how he died or any of the details. All I know is I cried for my friend of so many years ago, unable to place myself in her position and feeling so so bad for her and her four year old boy.
I wrote her a private message wishing her strong support in her difficult time and offering up my time any time she needed me. I got a simple thank you back. In truth there is no support I could offer her. We haven’t had a conversation for many many years, just the yearly birthday posts on each other’s walls. I wouldn’t know where to begin talking to her about something as serious as her husband’s passing. I didn’t know anything about him except what was posted on Facebook.
I don’t mean to sound selfish and steer the boat back in my direction but I believe we, as humans, understand from a viewpoint of self. That is to say, we empathise, we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and try to imagine ‘what that must feel like’ that they’re going through; because we might not have experienced an identical situation. I am separated from my husband, I haven’t seen him in nearly a year, I have spoken to him only twice on the phone in that time, both times to discuss divorce proceedings. It pains me that his voice in my head isn’t as strong as it used to be but I cannot imagine the pain I’d be in to wrap my head around him not being at all.
I remember the last few days we spent together and his telling me to pretend he was dead (so I could get over him) and me tearfully saying that it would have been better to him leaving me willingly. I realise now that it was a childish and also a passive aggressive remark. I’m working on that area of my personality, trust me. It is taking long as I had behaved that way, unchecked, for a long time. It was so silly of me to say what I did then. What did I think, that he’d feel sorry for me and stay? Something apparently he had done before. Had I wanted that, to be loved out of pity? It feels ridiculous now, exactly the opposite of what love should be. I don’t want someone to stay with me out of pity! I want to be loved because the person cannot not love me.
These revelations come to me in bits and pieces. I still feel that awful twang of sorrow and loss sometimes, not as often as before but PMS can be a bitch! But I sometimes also have moments of clear vision where I see that it never would have worked, not the way things were going. I’ve read so much on the subject now, about learning to love myself, to be complete and not search for another to complete me, that I think armed with this knowledge things could have gone differently. Maybe we’d be holding hands 50 years down the line as we watched our children and grandchildren chatting around the table for family gatherings. Or maybe we wouldn’t have married at all. That would involve turning back time, rewriting the past and a whole lot of reading I didn’t have the time to do back then.
That’s just it though, isn’t it? We do our best with what we know when shit happens. We do not have the option of pausing that moment, getting the low down on what’s happening, reading up on solutions and then coming back to un-pause and deal with the situation with our newfound wisdom and problem-solving skills. We don’t get a warning, we don’t get a second chance and we definitely don’t know everything we should when it matters. We also (mostly) don’t get to say our thank you’s, I love you’s and goodbyes because we store them up for a time we imagine will matter. What we don’t imagine is that we might not have time – the most capricious of all, finding great pleasure in remaining indelible and yet too fleet-footed to capture for more than a moment.