posted Tue, 13 Dec 2005
I had to do something really, really hard today. I didn’t want to do it.
I had to make a condolence call – an in-person one to express my sympathies for a death.
It would have been so much easier to take food. After my father's death, I understood why people show up with lasagne and cake after a tragedy. It's not silly. It's comforting.
Sure, I can write a condolence note. I don’t like doing it but it is something that Must Be Done and One Does It out of respect for the feelings of others.
And I have told people at a wake or visitation that I am sorry to hear of the death of a loved one. But I have never gone to someone’s home to tell her I am sorry to know of a death.
I almost didn’t do it. I didn’t learn about Jim’s death until yesterday, even though he died at the end of September. I knew he had cancer – we had to change the annual alumni party in June at the last minute from Jim and Gayle’s house to another location because of his surgery. We’ve been having it at their house for four years now.
When I called in August to see how he was doing, they still didn’t have a solid diagnosis. When I was in Houston in November, I saw Ann, who is the alumni coordinator who works with us. She asked how Jim was doing. I told her I would find out. It took me a few weeks to get around to it. I called last week and left a message – didn’t hear anything back. Then Ann sent me an email yesterday – she had seen the list of recent alumni deaths – Jim’s name was on it.
Oh crap. And here I had just left a message: “Just checking to see how Jim is doing!”
So I got out my little monogrammed notecards and addressed and stamped an envelope in preparation to write a condolence note. As I was driving home at lunch today to let in the furnace repair guy, though, I realized that I couldn’t merely send a note. Jim and Gayle’s house is only three blocks south of mine. There was no reason for me not to deliver the message in person. Except, of course, I had already addressed and stamped the envelope. Now it would go to waste. Yes, I was that desperate for reasons not to have to see Gayle’s pain.
“Get over it!” I snapped to myself. “Since when do you get to be immune from the human experience? How damn cold do you have to be to mail your sympathies to someone who lives less than the distance of a football field away?”
Can you tell that I like to keep my emotional arms-length from people? Actually, you probably can, as writing is my preferred medium of communication.
But I steeled myself and went to Gayle’s house. I told myself not to cry but of course burst into tears as soon as she opened the door. And of course she burst into tears, too.
It wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be, but it wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination. We each went through several Kleenexes. I don’t want to do this again, but I will if I must. I sure don’t want to get good at it.