I have to expect that my widowed parent journey is, and will always be, just that: MY widowed parent journey. It is unlikely that I will meet another single parent who like me stood over his father-in-law, mother-in-law and wife while they all took their last breath. Whenever I share this fact, most people’s jaws drop in surprise, and then people get quiet, and struggle to say something meaningful. My grief for my wife is intertwined with my grief for her parents and the life we had. I used to get really annoyed with people who quickly try to change the topic. Now I have more understanding for them. How can I expect them to respond correctly? No one truly knows what to say in times of grief. Besides, words that work today may not work tomorrow. Or, words that work for me may not work for others. Also, since my grief for my wife is intertwined with my grief for her parents, how can I really expect others to understand the complexities of my grief, grief that can quickly turn into anger? This is where gratitude is very helpful.
As much as I miss Faroq, Veena and Natasha, my life is so much better having known, loved and cared for the three of them. I have the loyalty of a dog which means that when someone I care about needs care, I am there no matter what. I don’t avoid going to hospitals because I am not afraid of the sick and dying. I don’t make excuses about being too busy—I just go! So many friends and family have faded through this string of family illnesses and deaths. Just like no one wanted to be around my mother-in-law after her stroke, no one wanted to be around my wife while she was fighting cancer. I find this aspect of our species disgusting! We love being around people when they are throwing dinner parties, but we often drift away as people we ‘love’ creep towards death’s door. It is this anger that leads me to socially alienate myself from other parents. My grief makes me overly sensitive to most comments that other parents make. Either I feel like the make parenting sound so easy, or that I am not doing enough for Anisha.. All of their words are filtered through my grief which means that every word picks at the scabs of my grief. “Wow, being a parent is so hard. My wife/husband and I are sooooooo tired. We just got back from skiing at Whistler.” All I can think is, Wow, I wish I had their problems, I wish my biggest complaint was being tired after enojoying a weekend at a world class ski resort!
Literally, right now, as I am writing this, I just realized that I feel as if I have to suppress my grief with most people, especially people I know because they already know that I am a widower. At my daughter’s school I usually feel pressure to be happy all the time. This is at the heart of my social alienation; in particular, people I know are tired of my grief, but strangers are not. Strangers are a fresh slate for me to etch my grief on. I know most people do not talk to strangers in public for very good reasons, but for me, I have always enjoyed mixing with new people. My wife used to say, “People are drawn to you. Strangers always approach you and start talking to you. It doesn’t happen to me.” I have so much gratitude for living in a city where most people are very, very kind. My wife and I agreed that Anisha should not be raised to fear strangers, but instead to have the confidence to take care of herself. A small amount of fear is an asset because it keeps you safe, but it shouldn’t paralyze you when strangers talk to you.. There are basically three types of interactions I have with my daughter in public. The most common are wonderful people who just want to interact with a cute, six-year-old little girl. These people are amazing because they make me feel like Anisha and I are part of a community. The next group are people who just don’t know what to say and become very quiet, and if they have the social skills, will direct the conversation towards my daughter’s cuteness. And the third group are the ones who love to give advice which makes them the most tumultuous; I love their empathy but their words seem superficial, “Just believe in God” or “Just focus on your daughter’s smile.” Ideally, as my grieving process continues, I will be able to be equally understanding and appreciative of all three types of people I encounter. For now, all I can do is be open, and kind to each person I meet.