Are People Afraid Of Me?
Just when I thought I had total awareness of what is going on around me, I stumbled upon something that took me by surprise.
A couple of weeks ago I went to have coffee with a friend from Chicago who was in Nashville on business. We hadn’t seen each other in many years, in fact the last time we’d seen each other was six years earlier and it was the first time we’d met. At age 55, I’m always worried when I encounter someone that hasn’t seen me in that long. The six years between 49 and 55 have been tough on me physically so I’m of the assumption that they are thinking, “Wow, she has aged a lot!” So when my friend sat down to join me at the table in his hotel coffee shop and said, “You look great, really great,” I was relieved and also assumed that he was just being polite. “You look nice,” has become a natural follow up to “Hello” these days.
So we enjoyed catching up and sharing our latest endeavors in entrepreneurship and being self-employed. We also spent a lot of time talking about Pete and how we miss him, miss his music and miss how he made us feel. After about an hour and a half it was time to head back to my home in West Nashville. Before we stood up from the table he looked at me very sincerely and said, “I hope it’s okay to bring this up again, but you look really good. You have good color and a sparkle in your eyes and smile.” He had a sympathetic, almost pitied, smile on his face. And then it hit me. He was completely surprised that I looked good. He expected a distraught woman. He was worried that I would be an emotional mess and then how would he deal with that? So I asked him if he was nervous to see me–that I might be tearful and sad and have to be handled with great care. And he said that yes that was true. It had never occurred to me that people would be apprehensive to encounter me for the first time since Pete’s death. That they were probably very anxious and gearing themselves up for the worst and trying to figure out what that would look like and what their role would be to keep me from falling apart in front of them. I’m sure it’s a scary thing to be on that side of the table. It’s uncomfortable and there’s a fine line between comforting someone and just upsetting them.
I don’t know what the work-around for this is. I can’t exactly tell people in advance, “Don’t worry about seeing my face. I’ll be the one smiling and happy to see you. Don’t be anxious.” And on top of that, if I do get tearful when I’m talking about Pete don’t be afraid of that either. Just give me a little smile that lets me know you hear me.
Have you ever been on either side of this type of tentative situation? What did you do to make it work?