Of course not everything was perfectly resolved. As calm and relaxed as I felt at the end of my final counselling session, there was one big hurdle we’d not really had the opportunity to work through. When I’d started counselling it was because I needed to talk about Dan and, as I found each week, it became stopping talking about Dan that proved more difficult. But talking to a listening ear who knew, before I met them, about what had happened, was still relatively straightforward. Talking to strangers though, terrifies me.
You wouldn’t know from the outside. I will plaster on a smile and show my pleasant-middle-aged-woman face. Inside though, my heart will be hammering and my stomach clenched. Meeting new people puts me on edge. I am waiting, like a ticking bomb, for the question that I still don’t know how to respond to.
‘Do you have children?’
And I have yet to work out an answer that sits comfortably in my mouth.
‘You say you’re worried about having to meet new people and tell them about Dan? What do you think will happen?’ asked my counsellor.
‘That I will either say “no” and feel immediately terrible that I have not acknowledged Dan or say “yes” but then become embroiled in follow up questions that will mean I end up having to say that he’s dead.’ My words ring in the air like the aftermath of a slap.
Saying “no” sees me going back into myself, switching off from the conversion as I find myself apologising internally to Dan, and hating myself for the lie. Saying “yes” has me on pins willing whoever has asked me the question not to ask more. If I have to say OUT LOUD that he is dead, then a) it sends a shudder through me like I’ve reawakened a terrible pain and b) the questioner almost always looks shocked and offers pity and I hate being pitied and will feel cross for drawing attention to myself in a way that is so dramatic. Or, they may just say ‘oh, right’ and carry on, at which point I feel anger and dismay that they could be so dismissive of the worst thing ever. I don’t care that they never knew Dan, how funny and kind and friendly he was. I want them to weep.
So, the whole conversation is a series of damnations for me, and for the person asking the question. Neither of us win. The hyperalertness I feel when in that kind of setting is exhausting. And if I do manage to convey that I am middowed, there is no relief in having shared the fact. I find myself shutting down, switching off from the conversation, thoughts and emotions ping-ponging round my brain and body. Dan is dead. Really? I still can’t quite believe it. But every time I voice it, I feel I make it more real. And there is no comfort in that.