I am horrible at immediate, genuine, emotional responses for non-happy events. Are you?
I think that’s why I feel so at home on my blog and connecting with other people online. If you post happy news, it’s easy to respond to that with excitement. Even if you don’t exactly share the person’s excitement over a specific issue, it’s still easy to type out a quick “woohoo!” and no one will ever know the difference. Although to be honest with all of you, all of my woohoo’s are 100% genuine.
But it’s the other type of emotional responses that I struggle with. The ones that require a heartfelt something to make the person feel that you have connected to them, that you have heard their story and have taken it in and processed it. I hate having those types of interactions in person. I always feel like whatever I respond in the moment is the wrong thing.
For example, someone tells you that someone in their family or a close friend is really sick. In person, I usually respond with “oh no, I am so sorry!” Maybe it’s just a Canadian thing to apologise for this, but what am I apologising for? Then they can only basically say “yeah, thanks” or “its ok”. But is it? No. They are hurting. And I’m left standing there feeling like a fool trying desperately to think of something, anything, to say that is an appropriate response to the situation.
That’s why I like having my online community of friends and acquaintances. If one of them posts something heartfelt, sad, or tragic, that deserves the same type of response, I can think about it for a little bit. I will actually type out a proper thing to say that would be uplifting or comforting to that person. A truly genuine response for someone I have connected with.
Last night, my brother sent me a text message at around a quarter to 11, not really out of the blue for him. But he said that my mom was going to be calling me. Now, my parents generally don’t call me. I hate talking on the phone and prefer to communicate via text (again, it’s a comfort zone, just like online). I asked him why, and he said “I’ll let her tell you. Not good news”. So immediately I started to freak out. My dog had that episode a few weeks back, what if something had happened to him. Was it my dad?! Usually, he gives bad news. Why was she calling and not him? Why did she call my brother first? Was she angry at our email conversation earlier that day? I literally went through almost everything I could think of.
She called but since I already had my phone on silent for the night, it went straight to voicemail. She left a message, but it sounded so strange for her. She has been going through a lot emotionally lately (seeing a therapist, fell and had a small concussion a week before my dog had his episode, found out this week that sometime in the last three years she had a “minor stroke”, might need surgery) but this was still sounding strange for her. I immediately called back, still freaking out. But my dad answered. He told me that an uncle had passed away during the day. His wife (my mom’s oldest sister) had been cleaning upstairs and she went down to see him or something and he had passed.
All I could think of to say was “oh….ok”. Trying to hold back the tears. I hate that feeling of being so vulnerable that you don’t have an out, or something more to say than “oh, ok”. Then a scrambling in my head thinking about the logistics of it all: it’s almost Christmas, why do relatives always pass during the holidays? My poor aunt/cousins/their children. I don’t have anything fully black to wear. What if I need to ask for more time off of work, I just started and already I’m getting 10 straight days off. It’s childcare so it’s harder to negotiate time off. Then I start feeling like a horrible person because my mind goes there instead of to grief. Or maybe that’s just how my mind handles grief?
This is the 3rd uncle/aunt that has died. My parents are both the youngest in their families, and the age gap between the first and last child is large. Especially on my mom’s side. She says she was kind of an “oops”. She has 5 older siblings. The oldest, the only boy, was 21 years older than her. (Fun fact, my dad also has 5 older siblings, but only 1 girl.) My mom was 6 months old and already an aunt. My uncle had a lot of health problems and at 75 he passed away from heart problems. Just a few months after having surgery for his heart. He passed in his sleep, peacefully.
I got the call from my aunt and immediately burst into tears once I hung up the phone. Such a harsh reaction. I was only 23, in my last year of university, and it was the first time I had lost someone that close to me other than my grandmother when I was 12. My uncle was more like a grandfather to me since I never knew my mom’s dad. I took the loss really hard. I literally cried myself to sleep for about two weeks.
The hardest part was having to go to work a few hours later. I was the supervisor for the night at a grocery store, it was Thanksgiving weekend, and I had to go in. I had a little breakdown in the office with my manager when I told her what had happened. Thankfully, as the supervisor for the night, I was able to stay in the cash office as much as possible. When I cry like that my face stays red and puffy for hours. Hiding ensured that I didn’t have to have the “oh, what’s wrong?!” conversation with co-workers and regular customers multiple times that evening.
I wasn’t myself over the next week leading up to the funeral. One morning when I was at work (my class schedule was very light in my last year) one of the other managers pulled me aside and asked what was wrong. I told him and got pretty much the best response I can think of: “oh shit”. He didn’t say he was sorry for me. He did ask if I was ok, which obviously I wasn’t, but at least his initial response was one that had even just the slightest justification for the situation. And one that actually would work with my obligatory “yeah”.
What about you? What are your go-to responses for such news? Do you cringe every time someone says “I’m sorry” to you after something like that? Or do you feel a little weird when saying it to someone? Or do you embrace their compassion and empathy for you, even if the response is one that makes no sense, yet everyone (including me) uses it every time as the appropriate response to such news?