Love’s Perfect Colour

Would it be presumptuous to attend the funeral? Should I just leave a condolence message online?  How do I get the wording right for a colleague whose father has just died? In this matter are they a plain-speaker or do they prefer euphemisms? What are their religious beliefs?  Was the relationship close or difficult or both?

They were farm kids way down in Dixie
They met in high school in the ‘sixties.
Everyone knew it was love from the start.

Should I pick up the phone? What do I say to a friend in another city who’s just had a scary diagnosis? What if I say the wrong thing or catch them at the wrong moment? Do they even want to talk about their problem or do they want to be distracted, to pretend that everything is still OK? How long is long enough to talk? Will I know when it’s time to bail?

One July in the midnight hour,
He climbed up on the water tower,
Stood on the rail and painted a ten-foot heart.

Should I ask? What can I say when an acquaintance seems kinda worn down by life? What if my hunch is wrong? Will they be embarrassed? Will I? And what if my hunch is right? Then what do I do?

In John Deere green, on a hot summer night,
He wrote “Billy Bob loves Charlene”
In letters three-foot high.

Are they allergic to some flowers? Sensitive to scent? Will this bouquet last well? Will it be too big for the hospital room? Too small in comparison to others? Will it be received with surprise, as coming from someone not expected to send flowers?

And the whole town said that he should have used red
But it looked good to Charlene . . .
In John Deere green.
Joe Diffie, John Deere Green

Some things invite the pursuit of perfection. The manufacture of interchangeable parts comes to mind, as does surgery.

Most things don’t.

Like times of joy, times of trouble invite expressions of caring, and perfect doesn’t come into it. There are no perfect actions to be taken, words to be found, or flowers to be had.

It’s OK for me to be thoughtful in how I execute, but it’s silly to get bogged down in a quest for perfection or to worry about how it looks to anyone else. All that matters is that it look good to Charlene.

And it will, even in John Deere green.

 

10 Comments

  1. It’s the thought that counts, we are told. In my experience, most people in distress are not so crushed — unless they are ill — not to be able to discern intent from well-wishers. Following a surgery, I received a card from a cousin that was so minimal in design it read like a whisper. She, also, had experienced that kind of physical trauma and had an exceptional sense of what would communicate to me. I appreciated other gestures of caring but hers remains memorable. In a few situations, the deaths of people very close to me, the mere fact of some people showing up without saying much or anything or making any other gesture were amazing gifts to me. I don’t know if I have ever been able adequately to express my endless gratitude to some people. Perhaps, in times of trouble, just about anything a person offers is perfect?

  2. barbara

    Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. asked his grown son, now a middle-aged doctor:
    What is life all about?
    His son said, “Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing,
    whatever it is.”

    And later, after the flowers and funeral and pretty much months of a blur…?

    Asking a person who has lost a loved one to tell you about him/her”
    is the best present you can give. Beyond anything. A listening heart.
    All all the time they need, if they want to.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Barbara – Ah, yes. I like it: a listening heart. And a good reminder of the importance of not stopping. A few months after my mother died, one of her old friends (who had never called me before) called me to say she’d just seen something that reminded her of Mom. She said, “That must be happening to the kids, too. Maybe they’d like to know that there are others missing her.”

  3. Tom Watson

    Isabel
    I think the important thing is just being there. No particular words, just you being there. That’s what matters.

    I remember a story about a young priest who was called to the home where the couple’s young and only child has been tragically killed. The priest was overcome and could say or do nothing, just sat there and cried. A few days later the couple told him how much his being there had meant. He replied, “I did nothing. I had nothing to give.” They said, “Oh yes, you gave all you had. That’s what mattered.”

    Tom

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Tom – That’s a lovely story. Being with someone in their pain — feeling it rather than denying or downplaying it — is maybe the hardest thing we can do. Years ago, a minister friend of my parents came and sat with us at the hospital as we waited for the outcome of a surgery that would either fix a blocked artery near his heart . . . or kill him. She didn’t talk much and she certainly didn’t give us any pep talks. She just waited with us.

  4. Jim Taylor

    I would have said all that’s said above, but it’s been said, so now I want to add a caveat — try not to offer answers. It’s so easy to think we can help others by providing some insight that they haven’t thought of, yet. I remember after our son died, a large and heavily perfumed woman enveloped me in a hug, and said, “Don’t think of it as a loss. Think of it as relief.” In one sense, she was right. It was relief for our son, to have an end to his lifetime disability. It was a relief to us, not to have to provide therapy, support, encouragement, etc., every single day. But at that point I didn’t want relief; I wanted my son back. It took me a long time before I stopped trying to avoid that woman whenever she hove over the horizon.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – Oh dear. As I said in reply to Tom’s comment, we have a strong desire to fix things, and when someone’s in pain and we can’t fix/change the event we reach for “reframing.” That can be received as downplaying the event and the grief. Not so good.

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