During the past year or so, I’ve gotten into the habit of talking to Jeff at night when I am pulling back the bedcovers to get ready for bed. I don’t really tell him anything important; I just say a few words about my day or how I feel about things such as growing older or his being gone or anything else I feel like mentioning. I don’t think he’s listening — if he still exists somewhere, I sure as heck hopes he has something better to do than hang around and listen to me whine — but still, I talk to him, or rather I should say, I talk to his picture.
Occasionally I think it’s a bad habit and one I should break, because after all, it is a bit . . . not crazy, exactly, but off in some way . . . to talk to a picture. On the other hand, it’s not hurting anyone, least of all me, so why not continue? I’m not trying to hold on to him. After almost twelve years, it’s very obvious to me that he is gone. I’ve also built a good life for myself, so it’s not as if I am yearning for the past. I’m simply voicing the highlights (or lowlights) of my day. Although talking to a photo of a dead guy is basically the same as talking to myself, doing so gives me the feeling of imparting my feelings to someone other than to me.
This habit makes me wonder how important such a time of storytelling is, even if it is one-sided. In previous eras, clans and tribes, communities and families, would gather together around the fire in the evening and tell stories about their day. It was a way of saying, “I am here. I am living. I have meaning.” It was also a way of defining the clan, of gathering all their stories into one pot.
People living alone in houses or apartments seems to be a relatively new phenomenon. In previous eras — post-clan and pre-industrial age — families would gather in those members who were left alone, such as widows and maiden aunts and elderly patriarchs, but now, so many people, both young and old, are left to fend for themselves. Not that I want it any different for myself; it’s just an observation about changes through the ages, and how for most of human occupancy on this earth, we told our stories at night.
Whether it was a cultural evolution or written in our genes, it does seem as if this nightly recap is necessary. Oh, we can live without it — I did for over a decade before I developed this new (old) habit — but looking back over the many thousands of years of human interactions, this gathering of people and stories and thoughts seems important to our mental health or at least our sense of self and self-worth.
Of course, I could just be alibiing my habit, finding reasons that my behavior is reasonable, but still, I wonder.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.