Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Once is enough

I learned a lesson when I was in eighth grade.  A classmate lost her father, suddenly, to a heart attack.  She and I were friends, and her parents and my mother were friends.  His death was an enormous shock.   Feeling it the right thing to do, I expressed my most sincere condolences.  Two weeks later, as I was leaving the orthodontists office, my friend, Jane walked in as I walked out.  Along with her came her mother, looking like Jackie O in a black trench coat, black hair and huge black sunglasses.  I didn't know what to say or do, so I offered my condolences again.

And she ripped me an asshole.

"Cookie, you have already done that and you shouldn't have done it again," she snapped.  This was followed with a lot of hateful things that lashed out, at me, that had nothing to do with me.  I was just the 13 year old who made a mistake while trying to do what he thought was a good deed, but cut open her grief like a freshly jagged wound.

Not knowing what to do, I left.  walked home, scared and scarred.

Lesson learned - never repeat a condolence.

Second lesson learned was Jane's mother called to tell my mother what I had said and how she laid into me.  She was sorry.

Lesson learned - losing someone you dearly love hurts so bad that it makes you do things that are outside of personality.  Forgive them.

Third lesson learned was from my mother who sat me down and explained that while my intentions were good, that once is fine, "Then it becomes about the living."  She told me that being sorry was OK, but what people needed to know was that if they needed anything, to do it for them.

"That says I care about you without bringing the hurt back up, OK?"

These are lessons I have carried forward.  I still see and talk to Jane - we've been friends for 49 years.  And I show her I can by being there for her, especially when the anniversary of her father's death roles around.

So when my brother died, and unable to be comforted by other members of the family, I tried to be considerate of others and their expressions of caring.

And then there was Twila.

Twila is the mother of one of our neighbors.  Twila is a talker.  She will talk the bark off a tree.  She means well, but her yap keeps going and going.  She means well, but she's a talker.

And it just so happened that Neighbor and his wife went on a second honeymoon this past week, leaving Twila and her husband "Rollie" with the three girls.

So I learned about my brother being in cardiac ICU on Wednesday, the day Twila and Rollie were on their own for the first time.  And there was some pleasant chit chat.  Then Audra, the nanny came out and she and I chat when I walk the dog.  Because I know Twila is a talker, when Twila went inside I whispered to Audra what had happened to brother.   Audra called me up about ten minutes later and said "Twila knows - she has ears like satellite dishes."


Next time I took the dogs for a walk Twila nailed me and the agony of it all enveloped her like a form fitting girdle.

"Oh, how horrible about your brother being on life support, and blah, blah, blah..."  And unending twenty minutes of her writhing in the misery of his situation."

So I hid.  And then brother died.

And the next thing you know, Twila was at the door wanting to know how my brother was doing, and I said "He's gone."  And then we had all sorts of commiserating on death.

On and on, Twila was in fine form.  I would have told her to piss off, but we are friends with neighbor and wife and frankly, I was just numb.

That was on Thursday.   On Friday it was a repeat of the day before, with Twila enveloped on the shroud of woe.  She asked when the memorial service would be and I replied next week.  After that I didn't leave the house.  I didn't feel like it.  And I just didn't want another encounter.

Saturday was our block party for the neighborhood and we hosted the port o pot on our driveway.

I was watching the set up and speaking with another neighbor telling her about Twila and her preoccupation with lingering death talk when said neighbor said "Is she short and round as she is tall?  Blue gray hair?  Because I think she is waddling this way."

Sure as the sun sets in the west here came Twila, lawn chairs in hand.  And verily she had her homing instinct on me.

I said hello and out of her mouth came "I wanted to come over and ask about your brother," she turned to Amy, the neighbor I was speaking to, and said "you've heard his horrible news, I am sure."

After three days of prying, three days of endless chatter, multiple sympathy cards, and plaintiff looks as if she was going take me to her bosom so I could cry the tears she had yet to see me shed.  I snapped.

"Well, no change.  Still dead."

Twila looked at me and without missing a beat said "I know that, honey. Such a tragedy, blah, blah, blah..."

Later Amy sheilded me when Twila looked like she was making another beeline for me, only to cut half a cake for her dessert.

"Did you realize that she hasn't offered to do anything for you, she just wants to obsess about death. I think she needs one of them Harlequin Romance novels refocus her attentions.  Poor dear, probably doesn't get a moments rest driving those three girls to three different soccer league games in an afternoon."

Twila is staying another week, and I am flying on a plane, first class to Brother's funeral.  When I come back, Twila will return to her "rancher house" with her husband, on the eastern shore.  I booked a flight that gets in at midnight - a safe time, I hope, to avoid her she she choose to continue haunting me.


  1. I don't think your faux pas was so very great. When my father died, if someone had offered sympathy twice, I would simply have thanked them.

  2. Different people have different grief reactions, that was lesson four.

  3. twila sounds like a lonely putz. avoid at all costs.