It will never be okay, and yet there we were, the two of us more than okay, both of us happier and luckier than anyone has a right to be. You could describe either one of us as “joy on wheels,” though there isn’t one good thing that has happened to either of us that we haven’t experienced through the lens of our grief. I’m not talking about weeping and wailing every day (though sometimes we both did that). I’m talking about what goes on inside, the words unspoken, the shaky quake at the body’s core. There was no mother at our college graduations. There was no mother at our weddings. There was no mother when we sold our first books. There was no mother when our children were born. There was no mother, ever, at any turn for either one of us in our entire adult lives and there never will be.
The same is true for your fiancé, Bewildered. She is your joy on wheels whose every experience is informed and altered by the fact that she lost a most essential, elemental, primal and central person in her life too soon. I know this without knowing her. It will never be okay that she lost her mother. And the kindest most loving thing you can do for her is to bear witness to that, to muster the strength and courage and humility it takes to accept the enormous reality of its not okayness and be okay with it the same way she has to be. Get comfortable being the man who says oh honey, I’m so sorry for your loss over and over again.
That’s what the people who’ve consoled me the most deeply in my sorrow have done. They’ve spoken those words or something like them every time I needed to hear it; they’ve plainly acknowledged what is invisible to them, but so very real to me. I know saying those cliché and ordinary things makes you feel squirmy and lame. I feel that way too when I say such things to others who have lost someone they loved. We all do. It feels lame because we like to think we can solve things. It feels insufficient because there is nothing we can actually do to change what’s horribly true.
But compassion isn’t about solutions. It’s about giving all the love that you’ve got.
You can substitute “mother” with just about anyone dear to you.
"We kissed for two hours. Eventually, I led him into my bedroom and pulled off both of our shirts. He stopped me.
“This might sound weird; it’s not typical guy response.” I froze, suddenly awkward. “I mean, if I didn’t feel the way I do with you I would be all for it, but I kind of think maybe it would be good to wait. I’ve rushed into sex, and had it be a mistake.” He shrugged apologetically. “I mean, if it’s safe to assume you are experiencing the same date that I am, then I think we will have time.”
I was a little flabbergasted and more than a little embarrassed. How could I explain that the idea sounded like a huge relief to me, that I didn’t quite understand where the impulse to start taking my clothes off came from? I had had the same experience. I rarely enjoyed first-time sex with partners, largely because I usually did it before I really knew or trusted them. Here was where the difference between what I knew and did remained wide. The shame I felt wash over me was tinged with that hatred of my own innocence. Was I still so green? So unconfident? Had I gone straight out of the extremity of sex work to the innocence of my adolescence? Where was my self-knowledge? Still, I was relieved.
“Of course. I agree totally.” I clutched my T-shirt to my chest and smiled at him. “And yes, I am on the same date you are on.”
“I thought so,” he said. “I mean, I don’t think you can feel like this when it’s not reciprocal.”
He left at 2:00 A.M. and called me at 11:00 the next morning to schedule our second date."
"It’s a strange thing, how you can love somebody, how you can be all eaten up inside with needing them – and they simply don’t need you. That’s all there is to it, and neither of you can do anything about it. And they’ll be the same way with someone else, and someone else will be the same way about you and it goes on and on – this desperate need – and only once in a rare million do the same two people need each other."