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 could be painfully shy and would rely 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 discovered 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 would find myself taking over a conversation 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 share my story. 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 hers. 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”.

Over time, as I connected more and more with others who had also experienced a devastating loss, I began to share my story again. 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 and my losses. But I learned … That all losses are not the same. That comparing or categorizing losses helps no one. That as much as I needed to talk about Jimmy, sometimes the other person needed to talk about their beloved more. That sometimes there wasn’t space for my story in someone else’s pain. By staying quiet, I discovered how much it helps to have someone just listen and what a gift it is to talk without interruption about the person you love who has died.  Because so many kind, loving souls have made space for me to talk, I found I could make space for other grievers to share their stories. Hearing other people’s stories about how they survived devastating losses, how they made it through the fire and how they found a way to live on is both comforting and inspiring. To know that I’m not alone. To understand that it’s okay to keep breathing and creating a life in the aftermath. To believe that I can.

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