The Kindness of Strangers

Grief — or it could be self-pity — always seems to catch me unaware. I’ve been having good days recently, feeling that the universe is smiling on me, so today’s brief bout of tears was especially unexpected.

I’ve been doing a few small chores for my father’s estate — getting an electrician to fix the chirping smoke alarm on the 15-foot-high ceiling, clearing out a few more of my father’s things, scheduling an estimate for the carpet and tile cleaning. I was fine during all that, fine even when I closed out my father’s account, but on the drive back to the house from the bank, I could barely see the road for the tears.

heavenAlthough my father’s death didn’t devastate me like the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, it has had its traumatic moments. It’s difficult — and bewildering — to dismantle a person’s life, even a person who owned as few personal things as my father did. The person is gone, but their “effects” linger long afterward. Someone has to dispose of them, and since I am in the house, that chore has devolved upon me. (I suppose I could have left it for someone else to do, but during the past few years, I was the one most immediately involved in his life, so that in addition to propinquity makes me the logical person for the job.)

Closing out his bank account shouldn’t have been any more difficult than the rest of the tasks, but it was, perhaps because it means one less connection to my life here and ultimately to my past. Or maybe because the people at the bank were so nice to me. Since I was an equal signatory with my father on the account, they thought the money should go to me instead of my father’s estate. When I explained that legally the money didn’t belong to me, they made sure I had copies of the paperwork and urged me to keep them for my protection.

So few people have paid attention to me during these months my father has been gone, including those who told me they would owe me forever for taking care of him, it’s like I died with him. I’m not the only one who lost a father, of course, but most of my siblings’ lives will not be changed appreciably by his death — they still have their husbands and wives, still have their homes, still have . . . whatever it is that they have. But my life is in upheaval once more because of death.

The neighbors, who loved my father, have been snubbing me for the past three months because although I told them he died and made sure they could say goodbye as he left the house for the last time, I somehow neglected to tell them when the funeral was. It just never even occurred to me. His obituary was in the local paper and even though they knew where to find me, they never asked. Never stopped by to see how I was doing, either. Never expressed an interest in what was going to happen to me. And yet, devastated as I was by the rapid turn of events surrounding his death and my renewed grief for Jeff, somehow I was supposed to put them foremost in my mind. Oh, my.

No wonder the kindness of strangers brought me to tears.

Tomorrow, I will be back to my determined optimism, will be back to feeling maybe the universe is unfolding as it should be, will be back to believing wonder and joy await me, but tonight I will honor my dead with a few more tears laced, perhaps, with a touch of self-pity.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

7 Responses to “The Kindness of Strangers”

  1. sumalama Says:

    Pat, good neighbors are a matter of you reaping good karma, or luck, or destiny or who knows what. I am blessed with good neighbors on my landing and downstairs from me. Did they bring food over? Or offer to sit with him? Try not to stress over idiots. Life is short but beautiful. I usually say, “Not my circus, not my monkeys!” It works for so many occasions. Like the old saying, you can pick your nose, you can pick your friends, you can’t pick your neighbors.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      How funny — I have a friend who says that all the time — not my circus, not my monkeys. I thought she made it up.

      As for the neighbors — in a couple of months, they won’t be neighbors any more. I’ll be gone from the neighborhood. They were good neighbors to my parents before I got here, so for that, I’m grateful.

  2. Paula Kaye Says:

    We have lived in this neighborhood for over 25 years and not a single neighbor came to offer their sympathies when my husband died. I was surprised as well as a bit hurt. Guess he meant more to me than he did to them, of course. But a simple acknowledgement would have been kind. I totally understand how the kindness of strangers makes you cry. Right now everything makes me cry.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You’re still so new to this strange state called grief, no wonder everything makes you cry.

      I’ve heard that over and over again, how people never offered sympathies. The excuse is always they don’t know what to say and are afraid of saying the wrong thing, but for cripes sake a simple “I’m sorry,” is all it takes.

      When Jeff died, a grocery store clerk who didn’t even particularly like us held me and cried with me. I will never forget that kindness. And the only person who ever did anything to help was the sister who hated me as I hated her. I’ll never forget that, either.

      You do know I’m sorry for your loss and your pain, don’t you? I probably should say it more often.

  3. Constance Says:

    If you and your Father had accounts with both your names on them. The money actually belongs to you. You did not die, he did, which leaves you as the owner of the account. Legally the money does belong to you. You are the owner of the accounts.

  4. leesis Says:

    I’m sorry for all the sadness you’ve had to endure Pat. Indeed your tears honour your loved one and a dose of self-pity is more than justified. I think you also honour yourself when you allow your emotions to flow and that’s essential too.

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