A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
I’ve got a bulging folder in my Hotmail account entitled ‘offers of help’. I had this kind of twisted fantasy going around in my head after my wife died whereby I thought I might test a few people down the line.
‘I’m moving house this weekend’, I imagined the email beginning, ‘Please arrive at the following address at 9am on Saturday to help me with the furniture because I haven’t hired a van.’
I liked to think about a removals relay snaking around the streets of East Dulwich as every person I’ve ever met did all the hard work for me. They had offered after all.
But I guess sometimes “let me know if there’s ever anything I can do” is often just something we say to fill the silence or conclude the conversation when someone dies.
Don’t get me wrong, many people have helped me and sometimes I’ve even asked them to. People have fed us, cleaned our home, replaced toys lost in the chaos of that night, helped me plan and execute a funeral, cared for my son, redecorated our home, listened when I’ve needed an ear, backed off when I’ve needed space. The list goes on and on.
But I’ve decided I’ll never offer anyone any help or support again unless I really mean it. Realising it’s not always offered sincerely is just too disappointing and sometimes too infuriating to bear.
For the past three months I’ve been holding out on an offer of help from someone who I suppose owed me very little other than the respect and common decency that I had always shown him. If I’m really honest with myself I always suspected his offer was spoken with little fervour. But as this was more of a debt than a favour I could have been forgiven for believing it would be delivered without hesitation.
Frustratingly that was no to be. And frustration has not been a friend of mine this last few months. It hasn’t taken much for it to turn into anger. And anger is not an emotion that I like to convey in front of my son because it makes him angry too. And when our anger peaks we usually find ourselves quickly sliding down into a trough of sadness and distress. It all sounds rather dramatic but then grief often is.
This drama can be brought on by a broad range of different scenarios too. These could include being sent a chair with three legs shorter than the fourth and then having to deal with a dreadful cast of inadequate customer services representatives for over two months. Or telling a mobile phone company that your wife has just died and that you need to cancel her contract but don’t know her password, only to be told that she will have to call back herself.
But evidently none of these performance related issues by (un)professional strangers who have neither a personal connection nor a reason to care can compare to the frustration borne out of the lack of decency shown by those who do.
I refer to my ex-landlord. A woeful walking example of human indifference.
I moved out of my rented flat in May and bought a home for my son and me just around the corner. It was not an easy decision given that we would be leaving the last home we would ever live in with Desreen. But I was determined to continue with our plans to build ourselves a home and create some security for my son’s future. I served him the correct amount of notice in the appropriate way and even chatted man-to-man about my reasons and about how tough life had been in recent months.
The famous last words were repeated: “If there’s ever anything I can do…”.
‘Just one thing’, I thought, ‘make this process easy’.
He chose to do the opposite. I’ve had to chase him every week for my deposit. I’ve have to withhold my number on my phone for him to answer his. When we have spoken he’s done that really rather embarrassingly “you’re breaking up” thing. He’s blamed a fault on his Blackberry. He’s inadvertently asked for my sympathy because he’s “been really busy”. But he’s usually told me that he’d sort it “tomorrow”.
There have been lots of tomorrows. Each has stressed me out and made me feel more frustrated and angry than the one before. That has made the last couple of months even more difficult than they might already have been. Perhaps something disproportionate to the scale of the issue in normal life, but mindblowingly rage-inducing in mine.
In the end I had to introduce legal intervention to encourage this apparently insincere chap to deliver on his offer.
This is why I’ll never offer assistance to anyone in future unless I really mean it.
‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help, but don’t expect me to do it quickly or without drama, lies, excuses, technical issues or legal intervention’ somehow doesn’t have quite the same ring.
And introducing terms and conditions* just doesn’t smack of heartfelt support.