Was it only a month ago that I wrote this, where I mention watching two separate women ushering their partners toward a dignified death? One of the women, of course, is my mother. Both women lost their allies since I wrote this. Today, I had conversations with both of them.
I told them both about how, as I assisted my husband who is suffering from back pain so intense the Vicadin only slightly dims it, I caught a glimpse of the cane he’s been using since our return from my father’s memorial service. I told these women, whose suffering I can only imagine, that I saw that cane in a new light. “I wish there was a cane I could use, something to signal that I am in great pain and need people to give me a wide berth,” I said to each of them.
One of the women, who has been widowed a little longer and whose struggle seems much more close to the surface, said “this is why they had black armbands, or wore black.”
“Let’s bring it back,” I said to her. “Let’s get armbands.”
It was a good tradition to have, to signal that people are in mourning, to signal that something profound has happened that may mitigate their ability to get sucked into matters pedestrian. Why did we let this go? Probably because it was outdated. Sports teams add black bands and jersey numbers to the uniforms of players when they sufffer a loss, but black armbands and widows in black seems to have gone the way of men’s fedoras and dressing up for church.
Of course, I only think this because I’m hurting right now and, despite what I write here on my blog, I don’t go around broadcasting that my dad died. Would you? So not everyone I meet understands that I’m not really into conversation right now, and even if they knew that my dad died, I don’t know that everyone who does would understand how I want to interact around that fact.
Maybe that’s why we don’t wear black and/or armbands anymore. Maybe they were an invitation to people to ask questions we don’t want to answer and it is easier to pretend to be whole and healthy than to engage everyone else’s sympathy and curiosity.
Maybe it isn’t the answer. But, as my friend noted when we spoke, this is an invitation to me to remember how little we know about the people we interact with on a daily basis and what lies just under the facade of “fine” they put up just to get through the day. Perhaps I’ll learn to be more gentle with others regardless of whether they do or don’t wear it on their sleeves.
Then again, I’m human, and, most likely, I’ll hurt acutely for a while, ask myself to remember these lessons, and eventually go back to being who I was before.
In the meantime, I’m looking for a cane of my own.