On my honeymoon, my new groom and I went to dinner at a quaint tavern on Cape Cod. It was a stormy night, and adding to the ambiance was the roaring fire that barely drowned out the pounding rain. Not that we noticed the fire or the rain. We were on our honeymoon. All we noticed—at first—was each other.
We started with warm brown bread, clam chowder and white wine. When our chowders arrived, we noticed the people at the next table–an older couple, good-looking, well dressed, obviously married a long while. We noticed them because, as we took the first taste of soup, they began to fight.
The woman stopped our waitress to order a fresh gin and tonic. The husband said, “Don’t you think you’ve had enough?” He said it quietly, but we heard it. We heard her answer, too. That was louder. “No, I don’t think I’ve had enough. Not even close.”
It was almost amusing, two old married people in a little a spat on Cape Cod, where everyone seemed so image conscious and proper and uptight. I remember smiling across the table, and my new husband raising his eyebrows.
Our amusement didn’t last long. She had a second drink and then a third. He kept asking her to slow down. His voice took on a pleading tone; her voice grew more hostile.
Finally, he said, “I don’t think that group is helping you.” I assumed by “that group” he meant AA; from the evidence before me, I thought he was right.
She answered, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He said she needed to move on; she said the group kept her going. I wondered if I was right about AA. It seemed like something else, other than a possible drinking problem, was going on.
Back and forth, forth and back, it went, past chowder and entrees to dessert. Then, just as we were about to enjoy our chocolate mousse, this attractive wife said to her handsome husband, clear and loud, “Why don’t you just stay the hell out of my life?”
Her voice was full of venom. At the time, I didn’t know what to call what his voice was full of, when he answered, “Please. It’s not my fault. I didn’t murder our daughter.”
This is a true story. I don’t know the people, or their daughter. I don’t know the details of her murder. I only know that, twenty-five years ago, I heard a couple of people suffering so much grief, instead of turning to each other, they were turning on each other.
This week, mixed in with election madness, was Delaware’s Grief Awareness Week. Today, the week ends with an event sponsored by the Delaware Grief Awareness Consortium called Living With Loss. I’ll be attending this event. I’m writing this in advance; I’m not sure how coherent I’ll be when it’s done.
Because I work with mystery writers, I spend a lot of time thinking about murder, and murderers, and victims. Stripped down, mystery novels are puzzles. Something occurs—usually a death—that changes the world of the story. Characters are affected by the crime. Someone, a sleuth, is called upon to solve the crime to restore order to the world of the story. That’s how it works.
There is nothing wrong with that. That’s what readers expect. This is what a mystery novel is meant to be.
Necessarily, not much focus is devoted to a victim’s family. They appear for some required scenes; they provide background to the victim and clues to the identity of the bad guy; they are interviewed as witnesses if that is a role the author assigns. Many are handled with as much compassion as can be crammed into an <90,000 word novel. But often, particularly in series that requires a new body drop every six months or so, the deceased’s family is forgotten when the crime is solved.
Sadly, that happens in real life sometimes, too. In real life, closure doesn’t come when the bad guy is identified. Sometimes, closure never comes at all, even if the bad guy is found, convicted and jailed. Sometimes, closure comes to one person, but not to their spouse. Marriages break up. Friends fade away, because they are uncomfortable and don’t know what to say. People, well-meaning perhaps, want the bereaved to move on, soldier forward, buck up, get help, put it in the past. Good advice—except there is no sure-fire way on how to do that.
Bereavement isn’t a puzzle. Bereavement is the internal struggle to accept that a person is gone from your life. No outside action can change that, and the struggle is compounded by the fact that it’s a solitary journey that doesn’t have a clear path or timetable. This means that, for a bereaved person, there is no one way for the puzzle to be fit back together—and even if the puzzle is fit back together, there are still the lines between the pieces that show where the picture was once shattered.
That’s not to say there is no recovery. The purpose of events like Living with Loss and groups like Compassionate Friends is to help people who have lost a loved one recover some kind of new normal to their lives. It takes time. Courage. Friends. Understanding. Forgiveness. Maybe a creative outlet.
I have never forgotten that couple in the quaint little tavern on Cape Cod. This is the first time I have ever written about them. Earlier in this post, I wrote that I didn’t recognize the tone of the husband’s voice when he asked his wife not to blame him. I recognize it now. It was despair.
I wonder if, as using them to introduce a blog post, I am trivializing their despair? I hope not. I hope they stayed together and learned to help one another.