Just a Little Radioactive

In one of the dozens of “grief books” that friends gave me after Mark died, I learned a helpful lesson. When something bad happens to you, people around you may react to you as if you are a little radioactive.

Granted, I probably was. People want to show that they are compassionate, but most aren’t ready for a deep walk in the emotional woods with you on a moment’s notice. It’s a strange place to be, socially. People circle around you to help insulate and protect you, but if you need someone to be with you in a big way, the list of those capable is pretty short.

And even the capable ones have their days that they just can’t.

That’s good to know. I was pretty tender-hearted back then — and still am often — so it helps to know that I scared people even more than I normally do, and to not take it personally.

I ended up spending a year with a grief therapist. I could have joined a group and got the same kind of support from others, but I recognized that my level of introspection (some might call it navel-gazing) would probably scare the people who could see the thestrals, too.

The perspective is helpful as I look back on Sam’s early childhood. People are especially challenged in supporting you because it’s not a true tragedy. As the years go by, I’m finding it easier to lay a lot of those experiences to rest, knowing that some people were trying, but what I might have been seeking was more than they had to give.

Yes, Virginia, sometimes there isn’t a Santa Claus. But, you’ve got a spine, and prayer, so you’ll be fine.

We’re going through another round of that “radioactivity” in our lives. I’m pretty savvy to it — the list of people who can tackle the topic is small, and I have had to re-arrange my life somewhat in acknowledgement of that. I’ve even overwhelmed my family from time to time. Most of the time when friends and acquaintances push for information, I tell them it’s really not suitable for polite conversation.

But I forgot that little social rule today, and shared too much with someone who just seemed endlessly curious and capable of the conversation until I got the look. I knew that look, it was the get-me-out-of-this-conversation-this-lady-is-radioactive look.


  1. TXsharon on January 26, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    I know the radioactive look well from the death of my mother, the difference of my kid and now this other thing. But I’m not getting it as often these days. I don’t know if I’ve finally learned to measure how much I dish out of if more people are realizing their day of radioactivity is coming.

    When my mother died, a friend showed up at my door with a bottle of scotch. I was in bed when she came so she crawled in with me, served me drinks, listened and let me cry all I wanted to. I will never forget that gift.

  2. Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe on January 27, 2011 at 2:25 am

    I had a girlfriend crawl into bed with me, too, the day after Mark died. I had not slept in 36 hours and it didn’t look I would sleep any time soon.

    I was afraid to go to sleep because I was afraid I would not have the will to wake up–and however I might have felt about living with a broken heart, I knew my kids, at minimum, needed me to have the will to live. She laid down and stroked my hair for an hour while I napped, fitfully.

    Thank you, forever, to Kelley, for that gift.

  3. TXsharon on January 28, 2011 at 5:30 am

    What would we do without girlfriends?

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