Swimming In Lake Me

It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much. Yogi Berra

I wasn’t always a conversation stealer.

In high school, I was often painfully shy and relied on asking questions to keep a conversation going, especially when I was nervous or intimidated. It wasn’t until sometime in college that I found my voice and learned I had something interesting to say or a story to tell. The older I got, the more experiences I had, the more I wanted to share. I found myself taking over conversations by saying “Me, too” or “That’s just like what happened in my family …” or “That reminds me of …” Phrases that in my mind linked the other person’s experience, story or pain to mine and gave me license to do what my husband jokingly calls “swimming in Lake Me”.

After Jimmy died, I stopped wanting to hijack conversations or be the focus of attention. It was too painful to talk about my loss, about that sweet, bright-eyed son of mine who was no longer here. I felt like a marked woman, someone whose life was glaringly different from those around her. If I didn’t know the other person well or at all, I worried that there might not even be a connection between my life and theirs. I also learned the hard way that there is no quicker way to shut down a conversation than to mention that you have a newly dead child.

Even when I was talking to people who knew and loved Jimmy, I struggled to say much, afraid of breaking down, falling apart, losing the thread. I didn’t want the floor. I didn’t want the attention to be on me. I appreciated every kind word, every expression of shared sadness, but I lacked the strength or the words to say much more than “thank you”. And I needed the distraction of hearing about other people’s lives, and struggles, rather than talking about my own.

Over time, as I connected more and more with others who had also experienced a devastating loss, I began to share more about Jimmy, about my parents. Initially, I went back to my old ways of seeing the other person’s loss as a point of connection that allowed me to talk about me. But the thing about deep pain and shattering loss is that sometimes it demands the floor. And sometimes there are no words to say. By sitting quietly and listening intently, I learned how much it helps another person to talk without interruption about the person they loved most who has died. I also discovered the gift of leaving space for other people to talk and the comfort of hearing their stories, how they survived their own devastating loss and found a way to go on. They helped me to understand that I’m not alone. That it’s possible to create a life in the aftermath, and to believe that I could, too.

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