Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Dangers of Strangers

I had just bought a rainbow disco ball, a fairly large one, that will hang off the controls of my wheelchair. I was feeling mighty fine with the purchase as it would add a touch of needed glamor for the Pride parade. I was also in a fairly good mood as a lovely young woman had recognized me on the street as someone who had done a training she had attended. She wanted me to know that now, even months later, she's still thinking about what I had to say. How nice is that?! That is the up side of being recognized.

One of the down sides is that I figure that I'm kind of under a constant invisible supervision. Thus, I've got this natural control for my temper. I don't know who's watching, who may have seen me speak about treating people with dignity - it doesn't do well to then set out and be an asshole in interactions with others. So even though sometimes I'm nice for a reason that's not so nice, at least I'm being nice.

Another down side is the presumption of intimacy that some have. And with that intimacy comes the right to insert themselves into my life, my decisions, to believe they have the right, earned through friendship, to advise and correct me. Just after, or soon after, the woman complimented my lecture, I ran into another woman, only a few years my junior. She noticed the disco ball, hanging experimentally where I think it will go. She introduced herself as a regular reader of this blog. Nice. She asked if I was going to the 'Gay Pride' celebration on Sunday (today as you read this). I said that I was. She pursed her lips. She looked disapproving. She waited for me to ask. I did. 'Is there something wrong with me participating in Gay Pride.' Questions give people permission, in an odd way, and she took it.

Two of my friends had just died. Isn't it unseemly (she said 'unseemly') for me to be out in a riotous celebration? Then she went on to say that if I cared (she said 'IF') I should spend at least some time in mourning for their loss.

I asked her if she knew Manuela. She did not.

I asked her if she knew Tessa. She did not.

I asked her, and this is the most important question, if she knew me. She said that she knew me through my blog.

'But do you know me?' I admit there was anger in my voice and she backed down by saying, 'No, not really.'

I explained to her, she wanted to leave but I asked her to hear what I had to say, that Manuela was incredibly proud of Vita's participation in Gay Pride, she mentioned it on her list of accomplishments at the retreat. The picture of us marching together is on the cover of our annual report. Tessa, on the other hand, spoke often about marching last year, about how big a deal it was for her. About having never been in a parade. About celebrating the victories, all the victories, that lead to freedom for men, for women, for the LGBT community.

Is it 'mourning' to sit in a dark room wearing black, or is that a show of mourning?

Is it 'mourning' to walk around under a dark cloud, or is that a performance of mourning?

Oh, I assured her, I mourn my friends. Every single time, several times a day, that I want to pick up the phone to call Manuela. Every single time I think of work her face visits me in memory, I miss her. Every time, every single time, I get a wave of pure unadulterated sadness. Mourning doesn't show as a constant, it visits, it steals moments of joy, it inflicts pain by memories of joy, it strikes and disappears. I wake not remembering, then the realization comes.

Oh, I assured her, I could be in the parade and feel their loss while I celebrate their memory. I can be there with sound around me and hear Manuela's voice. I can be there with activity surrounding me and remember Tessa's red scooter as it rode beside me last year. I can do these things. I can because humans are complex creatures. We can smile at the world while we grieve in our hearts.

Manuela's death devastated me. I will not be over it for a long time. It was sudden. Unexpected. And I'm still in shock.

Tessa was in palliative care, she was weakening and had given the invitation to death to come and cart her away. But the call still brought with it a stunned reality of a world changed forever.

But I will march because they would want me too. I will celebrate because they celebrate with me. And even as the street is full of 'others' the world will still feel empty.

"Well, I still think ..." she said.

"I'll stop you there ..." I said, "I teach others not to talk to strangers, now I know why."


CL said...

Wow. I am horrified that someone would think such a thing, let alone say it to you. Nobody has a right to judge what other people do when they are grieving, and they especially don't have the right to make presumptions about how someone is feeling about their loss. What she said to you was incredibly misguided and wrong.

You shouldn't have to justify yourself to any readers of this blog. But (I hope) she was not representative of your readers.

Anonymous said...

I've been fortunate in that no-one's criticised me on how I'm mourning for my daughter, although several have seemed surprised that I was back at work a couple of weeks later. It's been my own judgements I've had to deal with - how can I laugh, see friends, experience any joy at all in a world that she's not in? And I don't have an answer to that - I just know that sometimes, I can. Other times, I can't function at all; other times I cry endlessly. Apparently, all that, and practically anything else, is all quite usual - but I didn't realise that, until it became MY usual. Not that I've ever criticised anyone else for their way of grieving and mourning, thank goodness. But I've been incredulous at my own.

Kristin said...

I have never understood how people can presume to know, presume to judge how people deal with grief and loss. How dare she.

Glee said...


Anonymous said...

You march with Pride and in memory of Tessa and Manuela... I can't think of a more fitting tribute to two such remarkable people and friends of yours, who held the march in such high esteem! You know what is in your heart and in yours and their best interests in how you choose to remember them and people with nothing nice to say... well they really shouldn't say anything at all!!
Go Rainbow disco ball Dave, enjoy the march! love to you and Joe x

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

How unbelievably presumptuous of this woman to think that she knows how someone else should mourn. You are very good at holding boundaries firm, Dave. Hopefully she learned something.

I agree with Rachael, it is incredible that we somehow find a way to function in a universe with a gaping hole in it - but we do - we each of us find a way. You honoured the memories of both Manuela and Tessa by participating in the Gay Pride parade.

Take really good care, grief is very hard work

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

what a dumb thing to deal with while grieving.

This woman seemed very hypocritical to me.

Loosing someone you loved/liked very much is so hard. Going on with this gap in your life (sometimes ordinary situations reminds me of the person and all I can do is shed a silent tear) is so hard. There are so many ways to grieve. Sitting at home in black clothes is only one and my friends certainly did not want me to get even more depressed.

Going on living for me is sometimes so much harder than just give in the pain.

But I will go on and you of course will go on too (I hope).

This woman seems to me either very wrong or very old fashionend or both.

(Well but I dont know her personally so I should not judge.)

But thats the way it felt to me reading your story.

And I hope you had a very nice parade remembering your friends and be glad you had them in your life.

Julia (from Germany)

Anonymous said...

The wheeliecrone says -
Each of us mourns or celebrates in our own individual way. Neither you nor I, nor passing strangers who reads your blog has any right to tell you or anyone else how to feel what they feel.

Others have said it, and I repeat: we are people who read your blog. We do not know you personally. You share parts of your thoughts and experiences with us and we are stimulated or amused or indignant or all three, depending on the subject and content of your blog - but I do not know you. And it is not appropriate for me or anyone else to tell you how to grieve.

Take care of yourself, Dave. I wish you well. I hope that your personal black cloud begins to disperse before too long, leaving great memories of your two friends. Peace be with you.

wendy said...

Absolutely unbelievable! This woman is a piece of work, thinking she has a right to critique how you grieve. I'm surprised she wasn't insisting on a black arm band and a somber face for the next year, at least! I'm glad you called her on it. Too bad she didn't seem to get it.

March on!

Lyndsay said...

We don't know Tessa or Manuela just as readers of your blog, but there are things they've definitely said to us readers through you.

Everything those two women have told us is that they care for you immensely because they were proud of who you are. I don't think either of them would prefer you spend time mourning them in a dark room, missing a chance to get out and tell all of Toronto that you're damn proud of who you and your friends are, including these two important women.

Tamara said...

I have nothing to add that differs from the rest of the comments. Everyone is exactly right. I can't imagine even telling my own family members what is the right or wrong way to grieve. That said, I think I would have been a little confused if you had chosen to not march in this parade - given the information you've shared about both of your dear friends. However, I would have kept the confusion to myself and accepted that you did what you wanted and needed to do.

I really don't understand why anyone would say something like that. Just don't get it.

kitten said...

on christmas morning about 2am, in 2006, i got a phone call that my beloved Mate had passed away. i cried, then i laughed. i laughed because he would have gotten a vindictive glee out of ruining the christmas day for his mother, who was not a kind woman, nor did she appreciate the son she had. (i met her. he was not lying. even as cancer was taking him from me, she was fussing that he wasnt getting up, or that he wasnt dressed (in a hospital bed) or telling me what a terrible teen he had been.)

dave, you grieve the way you grieve. i grieve the way i grieve. my mama grieves her mama the way *she* grieves. no one can say whats right or whats wrong. it just *is*.

i treasure your tessa stories, and am glad you were able to be her good friend. and i know you loved manuela, too, it shows in the way you speak of her.

you march in pride for you, for joe, for tessa and manuela and the people of vista. i'm sure tessa and manuela are visiting with one another and sharing "dave stories". :)

Nathan Dawthorne said...

There is no rule book to mourning. We live in a world of differences. How one mourns is one of them - she must be oblivious of the real world out there because celebration can be and is part of death all over the world.

And as a blog reader getting small insight into your friends lives through you - I interpret that they wouldn't want you to be doing anything different than what you are doing now but wouldn't presume that my interpretation is really your reality.

Its amazing that this woman lives her life in this way in self righteous ignorance.

Nathan Dawthorne said...

Its as annoying to me as people who assume I believe what they believe in regards to afterlife and try to say comforting things using their own interpretation of spirtual things. When my mom died I found the comments of "shes in a better place" or "God is with her now" crap so frustrating... the presumptions of my moms beliefs and mine...

(not to mention the insensitivity of such comments ex. My mom would say being with me is a better place.,. If my mom and I were theists wouldn't God be with us all the time in the first place?)

Anyways enough of my rant...

Jen said...

Like everyone has already said, this woman had no right to tell you how you should be grieving.
Just do whatever feels right for you and don't mind anybody else. I hope you are ok during this difficult time.

AkMom said...

I will just ditto everything said. Get out there (OK, you already are, I'm sure!!) and feel Tessa and Manuela riding with you.

Maggie said...

Agreeing with the other commenters, I'll just add two things:

* the word 'unseemly' says it all -- she was more concerned about what 'people would think' than about what Dave or Manuela or Tessa would actually feel

* your parting comment was priceless -- and just perfect. this is, exactly, why we need ways to 'not' talk to strangers.

I hope the Pride parade has been an awesome experience this year as in previous years. I hope you have a rollickingly wonderful holiday weekend, even as you grieve for these important lost friends.

Anonymous said...

Happy PRIDE!
Having said that, people seem to miss that pride is more than a party, for many of us taking part is a political act, being visibly here and queer, and deeply connected with celebrating survival.
Of course some traditions have people sit out of participation in everyday life for set periods, not just 'up' stuff that our culture seems to feel is inappropriate when experiencing loss. Putting other traditions upon people who don't share them is totally anti-diversity and maybe even fascist... so not what I've heard when I've heard you speak.

Amanda said...

I sent you an email about something really, really important and somewhat urgent. I just wanted you to know, in case you're like me and get stuck in either "blog mode" or "email mode" but have trouble switching between them. Sorry I can't say more including on-topic stuff, I'm scarily sick at the moment and writing this pretty much the moment before my brain and body crash again.

Robin said...

It is amazing to me that even after such an impassioned explanation she still couldn't understand your perspective. And after realizing how she had offended you that she wouldn't back down. She obviously doesn't have very good people skills. I hope you were able to enjoy the parade and participated to the fullest in memory and honor of your departed friends!


Anonymous said...

You are always an inspiration. I am so sorry for your losses, and that anyone who reads your blog would question your deep devotion to your friends. Your parting words were perfect.

Jason S. said...

I am constantly puzzled at how people can presume to know what is best for someone they don't know. Maybe it is a change in society and its way of thinking. Or maybe it is the way people now feel they have the right to comment on people's lives as a result of tabloid/reality TV. Do what you feel will honour your friend's memories and wishes. It is the greatest compliment you can pay to their memory.

Anonymous said...

Well, I as well have nothing more to add as the others have pretty much summed it up however "what a pompous woman" is continually running through my brain.....I mean seriously what nerve....LOVE your parting comment!!!!

Moose said...

There are too many people in this world who want to tell us what to feel, when to feel it, who to love, how to love them.

I guess they didn't get the memo that their application to godhood was denied.