The coworker I mentioned in this post has been back to work a couple weeks now. I sent him a condolence e-mail when the news came that his wife had passed, and we've swapped a couple e-mails sharing pertinent poems since he's been back, alluding to his situation, but not really talking about it. I talked more about it than he did, which I suppose is how it always is. I assume people want to talk, want to process; over and over again, because I did, but I find a lot of people really don't. When I was still e-mailing with A's family, I would spill my guts (carefully...I would carefully pour my guts out), and their responses, even in e-mail, seemed to have this palpable feeling of "Whoa there, lady...way too much information/emotion." It's always a sharing mismatch with me. He seems much like he always did, and is walking around, joking and laughing when he isn't hiding out in his office. It may well be that he's relieved to be in a context where the expectations are clear, and not so heart-rending as those he's been in all these months. But I swear I catch him staring blankly at his monitor a lot. I am not surprised. I did a lot of that for almost 2 years.
It's been weird, and I've felt frustrated, because my instinct is to reach out to him. I am, to my knowledge, the only other person at the company who's been widowed. I have grief books to share. I have experience. I have the URL of a sometimes wacky, but overall helpful, support website I could give him. I have an open heart and a listening ear. I could, and would, be there for him but for two things: we are only friendly, not actually friends, and he has no reason to confide in me, or to imagine he could; and I am not out as a widow to the world at large, just select segments of it. And I don't see any point in coming out 5 years after the fact to someone at work. Too risky.
But I have to say, it was bad enough when my being a closeted poly person interfered with my own grieving; now it's interfering with my ability to be compassionate. Or rather, my ability to demonstrate that compassion. And that sucks. The suckage of that never seems to end. I think about that sometimes, as my parents and my friends and I all grow older. How many times will my ability to empathize be constrained and stifled because it still seems prudent to keep my love of A on a need-to-know basis? How many times will I bite back, "I do know how you feel," because they don't know that I do. Sometimes, I think "fuck it," I'm tired of keeping that secret, and that I'll let the chips fall where they may. But I never do; somehow, beyond the imagined risk, it seems disloyal and cowardly; if I wasn't going to 'fess up when it was happening and he was here and it could've mattered, why would I do it now, when that particular reality is long gone, and only the meanest souls would think less of me for it?
So I do what I can, but mostly, I feel I stupid because it ain't much. I don't ask him how he is. I ignore the subject, just like everyone else seems to around the office, and maybe that is, in fact, what he'd prefer. A lot of widows I know have expressed how they got really tired of people asking "How ARE you?" with that look. And it's not like I can ask him. So basically, I'm behaving like any other DGI--Let's all pretend M's wife didn't die, and that it's business as usual for him. I cringed when a coworker ran into him outside my cube, and chirped brightly, "Welcome back!" like he'd been on vacation or something; he spent the last 5 months watching his wife die. Jesus.
I guess, if I'm honest, I'm projecting the feelings that arise from my old wounds onto him, and he may be feeling none of that himself. But it's not about me. And maybe that's what I need to remember in my frustration; I have to guess he has other means of support. It is no doubt pure ego to think that he needs what I have to contribute. That makes sense to me; there's just that bit of doubt that nags at me, as I remember how many rats fled my sinking ship, and worry for him: what if I were the one person who might've supported him, but didn't?