Monday, June 15, 2020

No, I can't really feel your pain

Late Friday afternoon there was a knock on our front door, an event surprising in itself in this age of quarantining.
I opened the door to find my next-door neighbor, a pleasant lady who I’ve chatted with on occasion. She and her husband had moved in about the same time we did, roughly three years ago, when they’d left Florida to live closer to family because of his health.

          She smiled and said, “I just wanted you to know that my husband died last night. I didn’t want you to hear it on the street,” meaning the gossip that travels through our community as we’re out strolling.

          Of course I offered my condolences, but we stood there awkwardly, holding the screen door open between us, unable to hug, me unable to invite her in.

          We’re hearing a great deal about empathy, as well we should, what with the scanty amount of it seen in the past few years. But in that moment, I felt as though I’d come up short. I certainly hadn’t lost a husband, and so was unable to truly feel what she was feeling. Yes, I could imagine how she might be feeling, but that was based on the basic stereotype of what everyone is expected to feel as the loss of someone loved. It had been a long illness. His death certainly wasn’t a surprise. Was she also feeling relief? Freedom? I don’t know her well enough to presume or pry. Here was empathy better left alone, so we can only fall back on the standard phrases and offers to help.

          Yesterday when out walking Mamie I came across her in her front yard with her dogs. We had a small conversation about our dogs and their silliness. She seemed happy to linger and chat; there was no need to hurry back inside now.

Maybe that was helpful, too, in some way. I hope so.


  1. So very sad. I think it was nice of her to let you know in person. And it is hard when we cannot hug and comfort one another as we used to do.

  2. I am sure that your brief chat was helpful. And that her dogs are a huge comfort.
    I admire her courage in coming by to tell you her sad news in person.

  3. well, I would say, that is awkward, what is one to say or do? I am sure, though, that you are a person who offers comfort and she could count on you, probably just you standing there with a hug, without a hand holding, gave her some measure of peace.

  4. I'm sure it was helpful, to be able to linger and chat a bit. The dogs would have helped that along. I imagine I might react in the same way as you if someone told me their husband had just died.

  5. I'm sure you reacted well and it was kind of you to chat with her again the next day. We always second-guess ourselves in these kinds of situations.

  6. The bereaved need to talk. The worst thing that can happen is that neighbours or others feel unable to linger and chat for a few moments. Or, at the very worst cross over to the other side of the road. Whatever you do, never do that, but talk to her, in small doses, no need to feel embarrassed or feel that you don’t know what to say. She’ll say what she wants you to know.


Thanks for stopping by and I'd love to hear what you think.