Thursday, June 16, 2011

Being Late

I'm late in writing a new post; it has been nearly two weeks since I've written anything on the blog.  Mostly, this is because I've been out of town.  For the second year in a row, I attended the Bonnaroo music and arts festival, a 4-day event that requires a full day of driving there and a full day back (plus I flew to Iowa for a few days to see family and friends, and to borrow my parents' minivan for the camping trip).

One can be late in completing a task, one can be running late, stay up too late, a woman can be "late" in other ways (a scary time indeed for those not wishing to be), one can be a late bloomer, and one can be simply late.  As in dead.  Why do we use that word?  I used it for the first time the other day in that context and immediately wondered why I chose that phrase at that time.

It happened when I was out to lunch with a friend.  We were at Le Madeline, an upscale casual bakery-inspired kind of place where you order your food at a counter.  I was perusing the options, trying to calculate a "pick 3" side/salad combo that would be enjoyable yet mostly healthy.  I was wanting some real, normal food after being away from home for over a week, subsiding mostly on overpriced food from a stand at Bonnaroo.  I was also fresh from the airport, running on about 3 1/2 hours of sleep (one of which came in the form of fragments of slumber cobbled together on a turbulence-filled flight from Des Moines to Dallas).  I was coming off a six-day, five-state trip that included 4 nights of camp tenting in 90+ degree weather.  I was in relatively good spirits though, having had a great time in Iowa and on the trip to Tennessee with two of my best friends.  Now, I was back in Austin, having been just picked up at the airport by my friend Amy, with whom I was out to lunch, and eagerly anticipating seeing my boyfriend, "Antonio," that night.

While I was placing my order, a stranger behind me spotted the tattoo on my back - the Chicago Bears "C" logo with a green shamrock background.  He asked, sort of excitedly, "I gotta ask -- are you Irish and from Chicago?"

"Neither, actually," I replied, then added, "hold on, I'll explain."  I then finished placing my order and answering the questions of the guy behind the counter about my soup and salad dressing choices.  I then turned back to the guy behind me and his female companion, who seemed really excited to have possibly found another Irish Chicagoan in Austin (he had already blurted out that he was both of those things).  I explained that I was a huge Chicago Bears fan, and that my "late husband" was as well, and that he was the Irish one, that the tattoo was in his honor.  They had no visible reaction to my mention of Brian in that fashion - perhaps because of the casual way I said the phrase.  Referring to my "late husband" is a much softer and gentler thing to say than, "My husband passed away" or "My husband died."  Those sentences tend to elicit pity, awkward apologies from strangers, and awkward thanks and acceptance for those words of condolence from someone who neither knows me nor knew Brian.

Still, I felt weird saying that phrase.  I don't know why.  I've also said, "I lost my husband," but I don't like that much either.  I didn't lose him -- it's not like he was entrusted to me and I misplaced him!  That makes me sound responsible for his death, or careless at the least.  Yet, it is true -- he was in my life, and I lost him.  I had him, then lost him.  Not through any fault of my own, but I am missing him.  He is not still here.  I guess I did lose him in that sense.

I've had a couple of people refer to Brian as my "ex-husband."  I have been quick to correct this.  We did not divorce; this was not a voluntary separation.  "Ex-husband" simply suggests a reality completely different from ours.  Not only is it hurtful, it's inaccurate.  I know people don't mean anything by it, so I'm not offended.  However, this is the one phrase I simply won't tolerate.

It's been nearly a year and a half since Brian died and I still haven't figured out how to refer to him to people I meet, how to introduce them to my past life.  Unfortunately, it seems the phrases I personally dislike are those that seem to best facilitate introduction of the subject into the conversation.  There is almost always some disruption to the flow of the conversation when that comes up, the way you might expect the water flow of small, meandering stream to be interrupted by someone dropping a large boulder in its path.  I'm trying to make this topic more of a pebble; I'd be happy if there was only a small ripple or splash, with the stream continuing to flow relatively undisturbed.

Ultimately, this issue is something that is so situation-specific.  It's just one of those things that I have to accept will be different for me as a widow -- I have to be ready to feel this out with strangers and new acquaintances for the rest of my life.  Many "routine" conversations will be a little more complicated for me as I perform some unseen mental gymnastics to figure out how to best keep the conversation ball rolling with the introduction of an unexpected and possibly uncomfortable topic.  Oddly enough, I feel bad sometimes for those on the opposite end of the conversation, who have no idea how to react to such news, especially when I am cool and composed about it.


  1. For a while I said I lost my husband too. It felt wrong, he wasn't wondering around "lost". The tattoo I got on our anniversary says Love is never lost as a reminder.

    Now I have a question. How do you answer "how are you?" or how did you?. I am 10 months out and get asked every single day (multiple times) and I either completely ignore the question or say "I'm here". Any ideas on how to handle this? I don't want to lie. I'm not great, and depending on the day not even fine.

  2. Nicole -- good question! I wish I had a good answer. I always tended to say, "I'm good," or "I'm okay," because I didn't want to get into it with everyone. However, I would (and do) open up to certain people when the time was/is right, not just during casual conversation or when people are asking who you'd just rather not get into it with. Sometimes, my good friends would press a little bit until I talked about it, which was good for me and for those friendships too.

    To be honest, I started this blog in part to tell people how I was doing so I could be honest and share what was going on without having to figure out how to say it in conversation. One of my earliest blog posts discusses this, that post might be of help to you. In May 2010 archives, it would be one of the first 3 posts, maybe even the very first.

    Also - love the tattoo choice!