I have been thinking a great deal about kindness.
Since my boyfriend died three months ago, I have been treated with the more kindness, patience, caring, love, and tenderness than I knew possible. People I havn’t heard from in years message me to tell me they are thinking of me and send me love. I traveled to his college town for a memorial, where I met his friends and was treated like a queen. Acquaintances have sought me out, creating new and amazing friendships. I receive random check ins almost daily. A text from one friend here, a call from another there.
It has been absolutely amazing and has kept me grounded through this painful, lonely process. Except…I can’t help but wonder why it takes a tragedy to bring people together like this, to get people to express love, to get people to be kind to each other. Wouldn’t it be great if we were all this kind to each other all the time?
We aren’t, and we can’t. I just don’t think it’s possible. I can’t speak for others, but in my extended, global community, all linked loosely through Burning Man, we just know too many people. It’s too hard to be this way, to treat everyone this way all the time. Of course, we can try to treat those closest to us this way. Random check ins, making time for each other, real face to face interactions with phones put away.
And then there are the painful reminders that not everyone can actually be kind, and that death can bring out the worst in people. While I was in his college town, I had the most unexpected and bizarre experience. There were two women there who seemed to be competing with me about their place in my deceased boyfriend’s life.
I am having a hard time writing about this. I don’t want to gossip, to include too many details about their behavior, but I do think it important that we start a conversation around this behavior (please comment below after you’ve read through this). So I will go ahead and describe behaviors, while maintaining their privacy. I consulted with a friend who said, “if people don’t want you to talk poorly of them, they should have treated you better.” Hell yes. That.
I knew both of these women. Neither had been a significant part of his life for two decades. The first was his college girlfriend who had cheated on him after they moved in together; he had moved out the next day. She and I met each other a few years ago, independent of him, only later realizing our connection. They got back in touch through a reunion, and I have her to thank for bringing him back into my life.
When he and I started seeing each other, she stopped talking to me. Overnight, she went from one of my besties to no longer returning my texts and ignoring me. A few months later, she ran into him and told him that while she would be friends with him, and she would be friends with me, she wouldn’t recognize us as a couple. He was bewildered and hurt. It was hard to realize the woman I thought was a dear friend was actually incapable of being happy for me. After many long conversations, he and I wrote her off. We were done with her and her hurtful behavior. The icing on the cake was just a couple of months later when a friend called me in tears because this woman had offered her a place to stay and then had become violent, quite literally throwing her out the door on her ass, in a mean and hungover state. It felt good to have her out of our lives.
She and I ignored each other the weekend of the memorial, despite staying in the same house. I’d say good morning, she’d say good morning. She asked how I was, I said I was doing okay, she said, “I’m great, except for this awful hangover.” Nothing more.
During the memorial that weekend, while one of his friends was speaking about how happy he was with me, the happiest he had seen him in a very long time, she noisily walked out. There were more than a few sideways glances.
The other woman that weekend was his high school sweetheart, who I hadn’t seen in 25 years. I didn’t know she would be there, and it took a moment of hearing her speak, loudly, in the kind of way where you want others to hear your conversation, to recognize her. She was telling stories of him as a teenager, talking all about his parents, both of whom have been dead for a decade. Standing in a large group at a BBQ, she looked at me and asked, “Did he ever gift you in an organic way?” A few of us looked at each other confused. “Are we talking about sex?” I asked. “Oh, no!” She laughed. She then proceeded to tell me a story in great detail, including the make of her car, her roommates names, a description of the layout of her dorm, while telling me about the time he showed up at her place for the weekend with two giant bags. He was a couple of months from starting school himself, and said, “my romantic gesture is to live with you the rest of the summer.”
Then she asked me, “Did he do anything like that to you?”
I was floored at her lack of tact. I thought for a moment and replied, “That sounds like the actions of a really young guy. The guy I dated was a grown up.” I let the conversation shift and flow, and then I walked away, determined not to engage in another conversation with her.
Perhaps the best perspective on this was an old friend who was there that weekend. He was part of our crew as teenagers. He knew me, and he knew both the women, though it had been many years since he’d seen any of us. I felt comfortable telling him what these women had said and done. I was floored when he cut right through and said, “The game is over. Why are they still playing? It doesn’t matter, but if he were here, he would be with you.”
The game is over. He’s dead now. I will always love him. I will always miss him. I will always wish this tragedy had never happened. I am consciously moving forward with my life, one foot in front of the other, rebuilding my life without him. I see these two holding on to a past they can never get back. I won’t be the high school football player that treasures that one special game and can’t move on. My life will continue forward until I, too, am a box of ash on a mantel. I feel sorry for these women that need to compete for the love of a dead man, not realizing the game is over.
From seeing two people do this, I know it must be fairly common. I would really like to get a conversation going to better understand and deal with this, these hurtful actions towards the grieving by the grieving.
Have you experienced behavior like this? How have you responded? Please share your thoughts on this, honestly and gently. I am still emotionally fragile and won’t approve hurtful comments. Thank you.