Small talk

Not long after Maxie's death, my mom had to go out of town for a conference.  On her way home, she was seated on the plane next to a mother who was flying with her husband and many children to California for a trip to Disneyland.  They started making a little small talk and my mom asked her how many children she had.  The woman replied that she had 5.  She asked my mother how many children she had and my mother responded that she had two grown children.  The woman asked if she had any grandchildren and my mother replied saying that she had one grandson.  The small talk went on as various children came up to where their mommy was sitting to visit.  The older ones were sitting on their own and the two littlest were each sitting with a parent.  As the small talk continued, my mother casually asked where the fifth child was, as she had seen four of them already.  At that point, the woman teared up and told her that months earlier, they'd had a baby who died.  They decided to take this trip to Disneyland with the other children to help them take a break from their grief.  Obviously that is when my mother shared that her one grandchild had also recently died - she had no living grandchildren.  The two of them cried together.  Two strangers on an airplane.

I'm not sure why I am sharing the story.  It has stuck with me.  It speaks to me on many levels.  The obstacles of small talk, the necessity of sometimes sharing only partial truths, the power of empathy and connection, the fact that the picture you see often masks the reality of what is.  The world I used to live in was one where the greatest fear I had in making small talk was having nothing to say.  The world I live in now is one where my greatest fear is having to make small talk....and even though I took a long break from it, it's totally unavoidable.  If I have to do it, I prefer to do it with complete strangers - ones who don't know me, who I can pretend to be a normal, happy person with.  The idea of having to make small talk, simply "catching up" small talk, with people I know only casually or as acquaintances is torturous.  How can I put into small talk the words to answers questions like, "What's new?"....or "How have things been?" to people I haven't seen in a while, who I haven't heard from since our tragedy, or how I don't know that well?  I don't want to make small talk about Max but talking about everything but Max feels super fake.  And, I don't want to have a heavy conversation about Max in a fun celebratory environment either.  There is no right way.  And I can't help but wonder if I am being judged for smiling or laughing or living still.  Do I care?  I definitely am WAY over caring about those people who think I am grieving too much.  And if I don't care, why am I even bothering to attend whatever event it is where I am having to make all of this small talk?  I don't know...these are some of the questions that have been coming up for us recently as we are trying to navigate a world of 40th birthdays, first birthdays, parties, holidays and reunions of various types.  As we redefine who we are and rebuild our lives, this is another bridge to cross.  We are sort of picking and choosing the environments that feel most comfortable, that are in celebration of our most favorite people, and/or that feel like they will be a real occasion to get back to our old selves for a bit and blow off some steam.  I know we will figure it out eventually, but until then, I often wish I could just stay in my bubble.

1 comment

Sarah P. said...

Sounds so, so, so hard, Abby. I commend you, as always, for sharing your journey so honestly on this blog. The story about your Mom and the woman on the airplane is both wonderful and heartbreaking at the same time, if that makes sense. Wishing you all the best as you sort out the social functions on your horizon and figure out which ones to attend and how to endure the inevitable small talk. Hugs to you. Still think of you all the time.