A story of grief by a man and a boy
I used to crave constant praise from Desreen, which is perhaps why she offered it sparingly and only when she really meant it. She was big on self-improvement and probably worried that I would turn into a ‘comfy’ 30-something male if she didn’t keep me on my toes.
I was the kind of guy who liked to please others and sought approval from people too, which is, when I think about it, probably why I so often cook for friends. It tends to have the effect of instant glorification, which I think most women would say is typical of a man. It’s why we expect thanks when we halfheartedly pass a hoover over the living room although we would never dream of acknowledging the women in our lives for carrying out the same chore.
I refer to the kind of man I was, because he seems to have disappeared at Desreen’s funeral. Ever since the moment I returned to my seat from giving her eulogy, every compliment I’ve been paid has fallen on deaf ears.
I’ve been called strong; brave; a good father; a hero for saving my child; an honest, powerful writer; witty; an inspiration. People have said they are proud of me. A close friend was even been kind enough to call me an “amazing human being”. Yet I feel nothing. I feel the kind of nothingness I first felt when I took Valium three days after Desreen died, naively thinking it was a kind of sleeping pill. For those unfamiliar with it, Valium (in a strong enough dose) almost stops you from grieving. So when I woke up at 2am confused about why I’d awoken so soon after taking such a strong sedative, sleepless and with a head full of dark thoughts that I wasn’t unable to ‘feel’, I was deeply confused. I wondered what was wrong with me; that I knew my wife was dead but I didn’t feel emotional. I felt nothing.
That’s how compliments feel when you’re grieving. The endorsement we seek our whole lives becomes redundant.
Perhaps the acclaim I was seeking before was arrogance, perhaps it was insecurity. But either way it was a feeling. And yet another feeling her death and my grief has stolen from me.
I was going to leave this post there because it felt like an appropriate close, but as I wrote it I received a text message from one of my wife’s best friends. She told me that Desreen would have been very proud of my words on this blog. It’s easy for people to say how Dessie would have felt about things when she’s no longer here to decide for herself, but when it comes from someone she went to dance class with when she could still barely walk, it feels true. And it breaks my heart. But at least it’s better than feeling nothing.