You lose track of what other people see in your grief. The basic human cues designed notify you of strangeness, oddness, or different behaviors in others turn off completely. You draw inside yourself, unable to look far enough past your own eyes to see what the rest of the world might. You do not see what they see in you, or how they perceive what you go through. In the first month or two after we lost James, I seriously doubt that I ever thought for one minute about what the world might think of me, or noticed how people acted around me. That filter was entirely removed.
Lately though, the social part of my brain that picks up on these things is coming back. I'm noticing a new phenomenon. The most common encounter involves someone I have not seen in a while. An acquaintance of some kind, someone whom I would say I know of, but do not necessarily know. They would likely say the same thing about me. Someone perhaps three degrees of Kevin Bacon away from me.
First, a glint of recognition. Law function? Someone's birthday party? I know you from somewhere. Names filter in. Next, greetings. Hello, how are you, how have you been? This sometimes continues for a while, and then it starts. A slowly dawning recognition in them. It starts in the eyes, slightly wider, now with some insight. Their posture shifts slightly, they become more attentive. Ah, I think to myself- they know. Then, out of nowhere, regardless of what we're talking about, they interject "I'm so sorry about what happened to your son." Pity frames their eyes now, the tone of voice softens. I never know what to say, and usually settle on thank you. It seems polite. The conversation usually ends shortly thereafter.
When James was sick, I wrote about "cancer eyes." These were the eyes people, from hospital staff to strangers, would give us when they found out James had brain cancer. Pity, mostly. The looks I get from these acquaintances are very similar "condolence eyes." Like cancer eyes, I have little patience for them. That's not to say I do not appreciate people feeling bad about what happened to James. Of course I do. but pity does not interest me. To me, that undermines the experience, it defines James only by how he died and ignores the rest of his life. I prefer sympathy, or empathy. If people want to talk about James, I'm happy to do so. People have told me they were sorry and added something, talked about it. Told me what he meant to them, or about themselves. I like to hear that. If they're just going to say the words for the sake of saying them though, I'd rather we skipped the formality.
I know this may sound harsh, that people just want to be kind. I know they're trying and do not mean anything by it. Still, I think it's important to recognize what's good to say and what's not. So I suppose I'm trying to say that. I am glad when people talk about James. I like to remember him. I love him. What I am not interested in is people saying something just for the sake of saying it. I did not notice it before, but I do now.
Thank all of you for your continued thoughts and prayers.