It’s That “Look” That’s the Killer

Maybe you know the look I’m talking about.  I’m guessing you don’t, though, as most people don’t know how to behave like human beings when important or uncomfortable things arise.

The obvious, of course, is the “look” I get when I have to explain to some new person, be that a person at work or a person in public or what have you, that I lost my wife, Andrea, a little over two years ago.  For these people, I understand, that’s a shocking piece of information.  It’s not an easy thing to comprehend.  They’re looking at photos on my desk or ask about what college my oldest daughter is about to attend and . . . when they ask about my wife I simply say “she passed away two years ago.”

That’s when it comes.

The eyebrows rise…the eyes widen, I’ve even seen a few pupils dilate, just a little, when the words hit home.  The best of people, knowing I’ve said this rather matter-of-fact, express their sympathies and move on.  Most, though, have no idea they’re acting a bit off the mark and begin to spew apologies, ask what it must be like, push for details…

As human beings sometimes we seem to lose track of that very humanity and don’t know when to stop being too invasive.  Nerves overtake our senses and we seem to keep pushing when it’s abundantly clear that the person whose tragedy you’ve just heard about is trying to have a normal conversation that you just jackknifed with prodding for details and emotions we’ve already experienced and, hopefully, dealt with for our own lives.

But that’s old territory.  I’ve heard stories of that “look” from others.

My friend who is battling cancer . . . getting the most random comments about the fact she’s lost all her hair.  If she’s been sick or out for months and comes back with no hair . . . what do you think happened?  And in the middle of all that, why treat her differently?  I don’t begin to understand everything someone battling cancer has to go through, but I also try to make no assertions that I do and ask questions about what she needs.  If they’re stupid, I expect she’ll let me know, if not, I’ll ask and make sure I’m not being stupid.

The worst, though (well, the cancer patient questions are really worst, but this literary device pushes the story forward), is what my daughter faces. At work, at school, everywhere she goes the idea that she’s doing everything with her mother persists.  “Are you going to help your Mom fix Thanksgiving dinner?” she got in November.  Rather than explain, most the time she just said “yes” but then came home frustrated and breaking down because of it.  She has acquaintances who ask her why she is – or could be – so close with her father and she looks at them like they are crazy.  She’s always had a close relationship with her father (her words, not mine) and I believe I’m close with all 4 kids.  The emotions and needs are all different, but we’re still close.

Worse . . . she gets “the look” when they ask her what she’s going to study in college.
“Drama and theater,” she tells them, and she gets that look.
“It’s the same look they give me when they found out Mom died,” Abbi told me.  “It’s like they can’t believe I’d go through this.  In one look they tell me I’m going to be broke forever and not have anything and that I should just give up now and go do something that makes money.”  She then adds, “Mom used to give me that look, too, and then said it out loud.  She wasn’t going to let me try.”

But try she is.  I’ve told her before that she’s at the ripe age to do this without thinking.  I’ve told her that my parents told me that, whether I did it professionally or not, I needed to keep playing music.  “It’s a sin,” they told me, “to have that talent and let it falter.  You should never stop.”

They never told me I’d be famous or that I was better than Slowhand or give me illusions of grandeur, they simply could tell that it was so ingrained in my cells that I couldn’t spend the day without ever doing it.

Abbi informed me that acting, for her, was the same thing.  She has a belief she can do it and a drive to do it . . . and even though I’m her Dad, I have seen her act and she’s good.  “Be so good they can’t ignore you,” Abbi has on her wall, a quote from Steve Martin.  She’s studying, watching, learning, and determined that the “look” drives her, it doesn’t discourage her.

The “look” for her isn’t a killer.  I’ts a driving force, now.  I think that’s a good thing.

4 thoughts on “It’s That “Look” That’s the Killer”

  1. I know about that disclosure of information. By the time I was in college, surrounded for the first time by people who didn’t know me or about my sister’s death…. I quickly learned how that disclosure would go. Like you said, the jackknife in the conversation.
    Now they were forced to ponder something horrific that they’ve never pondered before… something I had come to terms with years before.
    It made me not want to tell people. It made me want to protect them from the horrible news. Here it was all fresh and horrific for them – and I felt like I was causing them more pain than I was feeling myself.

    Then after a while, you forget who you’ve told and who you haven’t. To this day, I’ll be talking with someone I consider a long-time friend, and mention my sister… and say, “I’ve told you about that, right?” and sometimes they say no – I haven’t.

    The worst, is dating. Eventually it comes out that you have a tragedy in your past – and I have to wonder if they see it as this giant piece of baggage, that obviously brands me too wounded for a relationship (I’m not) or if the 30 years of distance from the murder to present day allows me to speak of it matter-of-factly – that they see me as cold and unfeeling — because after all, it’s fresh and horrific to them!!

    1. I don’t think i could get through it even after 30 years, not what you’ve dealt with, Tammy. But I honestly blow through it. I cut them off when they say “Oh, I’m so sorr…” and I just say. “Oh, it’s fine. We’re fine” and try to carry on with the conversation. Some people don’t get that. Others do. One thing I’ve determined is that it just cannot be about them and I’m not there to make them feel better, I’m the one who went through it. It’s not about them, not about grief, and certainly not about Andrea, she’s not here and we are. That sounds cold, but it’s how we’ve managed the last couple years.
      But yes…Abbi is both looking forward to and dreading the college experience for both reasons, yet she’s encouraged that the new people will not have the baggage of having known her Mom…that will help a lot, as they don’t feel the grief themselves as much.
      I am glad you’re doing so well after your sister, I remember it was still pretty raw when we worked together, and even then it had been a number of years. But hopefully I never was one who gave you that look. If I am, I apologize!

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