I returned phone calls from two recently bereaved women at work. The calls couldn’t have been more different.
The first woman knew that I had spoken to her children to get her new address. She said how lucky she was to have such wonderful children. When I called, I interrupted her while she was feeding her late husband’s elderly sister. Her sister-in-law is now fully dependent on her for around-the-clock medical care. When I commented that it was incredibly kind of her to do so, she said she had been given so much in her life that she was happy to give a little back. The call ended with us both saying we looked forward to speaking to each other again, even though there was no business reason for us to do so.
The second woman was agitated and brisk. She had heard that I had recently lost my father and asked me about it. I corrected her that it was actually my daughter that I had lost. She replied, “Well there are terrible things out there and terrible things happen.” I concurred and she hung up.
I was left with the sense of a parable. Both women were in their late 80s and had lost their husbands in the last couple of months. Both reflected on their losses very differently. Is the lesson that it is easier to lose a loved one when you are surrounded by people who love you? If that is true, then that seems circular because having a good attitude dramatically increases the probability that you’ll have someone in your life to support you. And if that is also accurate then I feel the need to point out that your brain chemistry is luck and potentially pharmaceutical/therapeutic intervention. I am so lucky to have so many wonderful friends. If that isn’t the lesson, please tell me what it was.