Teresa Bruce edits and writes as a freelancer. For fun (and food) she gardens year-round in her chemical-free Florida backyard, yielding more produce divvied with uninvited critters than with neighbors and family. She’s proudest of raising three dynamic daughters—and taming the family’s odd (but beloved) shelter-rescued dog. Based on experiences of young widowhood, she shares “What to Say When Someone Dies” on her blog at TealAshes.com.
Be wary, I’d heard, when backing any wounded creature into a corner. Now I stood trapped at the Relief Society room exit, my hackles rising from crown to coccyx and my fingertips clawing crescents into clenched palms. Fight or flight? I’d have foamed at the mouth—if it hadn’t gone dry. My voice croaked, “No, thank you. I’m not coming.”
“Teresa, it’s your duty to support the activities. It’s not right to keep away.”
If I’d had enough saliva to spit venom, I might have used it. Instead, I bit my catty tongue. Give me credit, woman. I’m here now, aren’t I? For the first Sabbath in uncountable months (if not years), I’d remained at church from the Sacrament prelude through the end of RS. (Sure, I’d stalked through the foyer weeping through one talk, hibernated in the bathroom half of Sunday school, and played possum from the touchy third-hour topic by hunching over crosswords. But—today—I hadn’t burrowed into the car, migrated around the block, or gone home to roost during the entire three hours.) It was progress, and I’d been proud of myself—until now. I fervently wished I’d fled earlier.
“You should come! It’s been, what, a whole year?” She still impeded my departure. “You need to get out. Have fun.”
“I do. I did. Birthday. Last night.” Inside I snarled. Why am I defending myself? I’d laughed and sung during the all-women party (my first widowed foray into social fun for fun’s sake) with my dear evangelical friend’s close-knit sister-herd.
“There’s no excuse for you not to come this Thursday.”
Instinct demanded I bare my fangs. I shed the vestigial Sunday smile I’d evolved to camouflage me (from some fellow saints’ lectures on how my grieving disappointed their expectations). “I’m. Not. Going,” I hissed, drawing strength from my frustration. “I don’t want to hear about the history of Valentine’s Day, and I’m not making Valentine cards.”
“Why not? It’ll be fun.”
I gasped and retreated a step, but she closed the distance between predator and prey. Why not? My eyes felt feral boring into hers, and I growled. “My husband died. I have no Valentine.”
“You should come anyway. Make some for your girls.”
“HAH!” All pretense of tame communication stampeded. I swelled with unrighteous pleasure in the shock my bark drew from the woman—and from the heads swiveling our way. I knew Valentine’s Day was the last thing my daughters wanted acknowledged—Single Awareness Day, perhaps, but likely not even that. “No, they wouldn’t like Valentines. I’m not coming.”
I’d defended my territory and my cubs. Confident once more, I gripped my bag more tightly, preening to leave. Then the sister kicked me below the collar. “You’re not the only person who’s lost someone.”
I’d admit I agree—if you hadn’t knocked the wind from me.
“You should stop feeling sorry for yourself. I lost my mother! Do you know how hard that was?”
Yes, I do. I licked my wounds. Mine’s been gone longer. It still hurts.
“I miss her, but I keep going for my husband and family.”
Should I point out that your husband’s still here and your kids are all married?
“You have to start getting involved with life again.”
Sister, you have no idea how “involved” I am. Overwrought chameleon skin burned, frantically trying to mask my inabilities over the responsibilities of I’d all become “involved with” since his death: solo-parenting a grieving teenager and two college kids, earning a living, regularly attending professional organizations (and the soul-restoring book club that had kept me sane through his illness), tending my house, yard, and nonagenarian great-aunt . . .
“It’s selfish to just sit around crying—”
My creature self howled, then keened. You see me Sundays, and yes, I cry all through church—because I feel the Spirit closest here—except under attack like this! After decades attending services alongside my husband, you—accompanied by yours—cannot imagine the agony of his absence.
“—when you should be serving others.”
The latest blow cut my lament to a whimper so low I heard another voice. Turn away contention. Soft answer. Knows not what she says. I took a deep breath (and another sidestep), pulled a regenerated smile from my pouch, and fastened it in place. Alms in secret. Do thou likewise. I wouldn’t tell this sister how often prayers from despair’s deepest corners brought promptings to serve solitary souls in sweet, sacred anonymity.
“You really need to show up this time . . .”
Do unto others. Tamed into humility, I backed farther away, retreating to the room’s other exit. My voice almost purred as I turned toward the outdoor light of noon. “Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your husband. And have fun Thursday.”
Have whispered promptings to love tamed your raging beast?