Monday, 29 June 2009

The elephant in the room

I guess it was going to happen to me sooner or later.

For quite a few years now, we have had a tradition of going to see the open-air performance of a Shakespeare play in Ludlow Castle as part of the Ludlow Festival each year. The size of the party has varied over the years, and in the early days it was quite a raucous affair with a Pimms-fuelled picnic in the Outer Bailey before the performance. As time has passed, the membership has changed and the picnic has become altogether more sober as friends started to have children.

It has always been one of the highlights of the Summer for me, and I was really looking forward to this year's performance (Romeo and Juliet). As it is my little sis who organises the tickets, the group often includes her friends and work colleagues, and on this occasion they made up the other 5 adults. I wasn't worried about this as I had met them quite a few times before. Also in the party were four 8 year-old and two 6 year-old boys!*

Saturday was another glorious day. Despite dire predictions of thunderstorms, there wasn't a hint of rain. The pre-performance picnic was excellent as always, with a score of dainty dishes to pass around and sample.

So where am I going with this post?
The conversation throughout the day was good. We talked about our work, houses, their children, my animals, Moose's operation, holidays, the economic downturn, Michael Jackson and everything else that people talk about.
But not one of these people as much as mentioned R.
They all knew him and had broken bread and shared wine with him.
Yet nothing. No expression of sorrow that he had died, no words of sympathy for me, no concern as to how I was managing, not even just a hug.

I was feeling good on Saturday, so this didn't upset me at all.
I was more bemused. I just found it difficult to understand how five different people could all fail to even acknowledge the fact that I had lost the most important person in my life. It was almost a John Cleesian "Don't mention the war" sort of moment.

I think possibly I have been very lucky and, right from the start, have been surrounded by people who cared for me and R and have allowed me to talk about him whenever I want. It makes me very sad when I read of people who don't have this support at the time they most need it.

And, of course, being the stroppy widow that I am, I saw no reason why I shouldn't witter on about R as I normally do, despite their obvious discomfiture!
As I said, it didn't spoil my day in the least, but even with the benefit of hindsight I still find it strange.

* The six little boys weren't very impressed with Shakespeare. They enjoyed the fights, but found the rest - especially the kissing - incredibly boring. Running wild on the castle ramparts, on the other hand, was regarded as a Very Good Thing!


  1. as do i. i'm glad you had a good day anyway. i'm also glad to know that you have had people who let you talk on and on. it's what we need most of all, to talk about the person who is no "longer in the room," as it were. the "people" i go on and on to are here, online. i go on and on to myself mostly as i write about my husband. ah, well, it's better than going completely silent.

    continue to be kind to yourself. i will always read what you write. i am always here.

  2. I think I had a day almost like this... people I love and trust afraid to talk about it, me sort of spitting it in their face, the two sides never meeting.

    Glad you had Shakespeare as a "distraction" or focal point, at least.



  3. J - I find that astonishing. Is it embarrassment that makes people avoid the subject, or fear that they will turn you into a blubbering mess (suspect not as they know you and therefore shouldn't mind a few tears). Perhaps they've taken the decision not to mention R unless you do, but when you did, they simply didn't know what to say. Even so, it makes one feel worse because it's as if they are not acknowledging him or the gaping hole that has been left in your life, and by doing that, it almost demeans what you are going through, but I suppose they don't "get" that. I also love to witter on about Cliff, and do A LOT. Sometimes if I can't sleep I call one of his friends and say, "tell me a story about Cliff". Unfortunately, unless they have lost someone they love, people just don't seem to have the empathy - I call them the "untouched" ;-) Glad it didn't ruin your day ... you've had quite a "social whirl" week :-) xx

  4. @ WomanNShadows: Thank you for your lovely words. Yes the need to talk is so compelling - and you too must keep writing. There will always be people out here to read your words, even if not in the same room to hear them.

    @ Supa: The Shakespeare was very good. It's not one of his best plays IMO, but the performance was very physical and fast-moving and certainly made up for the lack of meeting of minds in the real world!

    @ Boo: The "untouched" - I like that. Very appropriate.
    Yes, it has been quite a week. I'm rather reassured to note that my dance card is entirely empty this week. It will give me time to recover!

  5. People don't know what to say. Thank goodness for your blog, so we "untouched" will understand better.

  6. CC: I understand, I really do. In another life, I was the embarrassed klutz on the other side of the equation. But just "I'm sorry" and perhaps a hug is all it takes (for me at least) - a brief acknowledgement of what has happened.

  7. Hi J -- Apologies that I'm reading this late, having been travelling just recently.

    This is a huge and important subject -- and I have to say that you're absolutely not alone. I can't understand the approach your friends took, but it echoes my experience just perfectly. I'm convinced this is an absolutely universal experience for the bereaved -- at least in Britain.

    Jenny's relatives simply never ever mention her. Jenny's photographs are all around their house, and yet her name never crosses their lips, even with her kids around where the physical likenesses and parallels to her own development through childhood and young adulthood are obvious.

    I can't explain it -- I simply can't. I've brought her name into the conversation, and you did here, determinedly and consistently over a period which is now 12 years long. And I never ever got a reaction.

    I've written extensively about this, and there is more to come. I just wanted to share with you how shocking it really is, and yet how completely to be expected, all at the same time.

    Well done for coping.