Home My Vegetable Love Weathering Winter Taking Retirement Letters to Kate The Made-Up Self Essayists on the Essay A Self Made of Words
Thursday, December 5, 2002

Dear Kate,

Every day this week, I’m having lunch or dinner with one of our friends—so many invitations that I feel like a social butterfly. But the flurry of invitations will probably dry up so quickly that I’ll wish I hadn’t been worrying about it. Still, I can’t help feeling there’s something wrong with my going out like this so soon after your death, especially when I think of your mother’s lonely vigil in the wake of your father’s death. Maybe it’s also my childhood memory of how we all wore black arm bands for several months after my Uncle Manny died, but something deep within makes me feel as if I’m breaking a taboo. Yet it’s hard to say no, and not just because I don’t want to turn away our friends, but also because I don’t want to spend my days and nights alone without any kind of companionship. You’d know exactly what to do in this situation, and you’d do it without all this fretting. Isn’t it ridiculous—I’m seventy years old and don’t know how to behave without you.

Speaking of etiquette, now that I've become a student of grieftalk, I can tell you that "How’re ya doin'?" (with an earnest look to match) is usually the first thing people ask when they see me. And why not? It's a natural question. But I've answered it so often that I now find myself automatically reverting to a canned response—"Well, sometimes I can keep myself distracted enough with this and that (household chores, the monthly bills, e-mail, TV) that I don't think about it, but sometimes, and there's no predicting when, the full horror of it, the magnitude of it all, descends upon me, and then the tears come welling up, and then . . . " And then they often reply with a now familiar response. "Of course, of course, and crying is an important part of grieving, of working your way through this terrible loss." And when I tell them about writing you these letters, a strange look often flits across their face, and they tell me it’s a good thing to be doing, “a good way of keeping in touch.” Or words to that effect. Sometime, perhaps, I’ll get up the nerve to tell them about writing without any hope of response.

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