When my friend first suggested I watch the show “Go On”, about a newly widowed man (played by Matthew Perry) and the support group he joins, I was resistant. I saw the pilot and didn’t think it was funny. Plus, “widowhood” and support groups are what I am Living and Breathing right now, so I was worried the show would hit a little too close to home. Is it even “kosher” to watch a show about death, when a loved one has just died?
*Case in point: I used to watch that cleverly written show about cancer, “The C Word”, until we found out my husband actually had cancer, then I wanted to throw a rock at the tv faster than you can say “pheocromocytoma” (the type of cancerous tumor my husband died from).
But one night as I was scanning hundreds of channels in search of something escapist and numbing like “Gnomeo and Juliet”, I stumbled across “Go On” and decided to give it another try.
Well, I couldn’t stop laughing. There were so many things I could relate to, especially when the Matthew Perry character couldn’t get up the guts to tell his gardener that his wife had died. He joked to the support group about getting vanity plates that said “Dead Wife”, as a way to let everyone know. But it was promptly pointed out that “Dead Wife” had too many letters, and the group members suggested Ded Wyf, and She Ded.
I was snickering about this for days. Come on, that’s hilarious! “She Ded”. It says so much about our culture, our need to strip everything down into mini-bites of information, (not to mention the sad decline of spelling and grammar!) But it also says so much about the daily obstacles you face as you try to “function” in the world after your spouse has died. There is the fear of how you might react, just saying the words, the fear of how others might react to hearing them, and the guilt…of saying nothing.
I found myself in the exact same dilemma with my hairdresser. She was making the usual chit chat, asking about my summer, and I just didn’t know how to say it: my husband died. I guess it was both for fear of my own reaction, and for fear of where the haircut might go after such a doozy. So I found myself trying to strategize the “right moment”. Perhaps I should tell her in the shampoo area, it’s nice and dark back there. No, I need to be looking her in the eye…so maybe back at her station, before she starts cutting…but there are so many other people around – and I might break down. Best to do it when I leave, so I can escape if needed. But then it feels like an after-thought…Definitely NOT during the haircut. I’d at least like to LOOK like I’m feeling better.
The right moment never came. I just continued to be evasive about the shittiest summer of my life, never going into detail as to why family was in town, and why we didn’t “see any sights” while they were here. Instead, I thought about “She Ded”, and the emotional obstacles that pop up every day that are so contradictory and confusing. It’s what happens when you have such a loss. You constantly find yourself “straddling the great divide”. Living in a space where it’s painful to see life going on around you, yet feeling like what has happened is too powerful to ignore. But to bring it up in casual conversation? It’s not a casual thing. Thus the panic that can set in at the thought of having to say anything. Because it’s so counter-intuitive to “move on” through the world, carrying the deep sadness of your loss, while others revolve around you in oblivion.
It’s a tough wall to be balancing on…and it’s different for everyone. I completely understand that some people might not find “She Ded” funny (in fact, if it had been “He Ded”, I might not have found it funny). Yet, I have realized that humor and sorrow can co-exist. And that despite myself, and my sadness, I have to laugh. In fact, there’s really no alternative, it is the only way for me to “Go On”.