One of these days I will learn not to take those stabs in the dark. But I did it again…
“Are you Ann?”
“No, I’m Julie”
“Oh, gosh, I’m sorry!”
“It’s ok – I’m his other wife… his ‘work wife'”
Not the most brilliant beginning of a conversation, but the shared laughter made it easier. And the shared understanding of what it means to have a work spouse. The laughter also made it easier for her to stop on the way out, while no longer at the bedside and share the tears she wasn’t ready to shed in front of her work husband.
I’ve lost count of how many conversations I’ve had on the patio, under the awning and in the hallways… probably almost as many as bedside talks. They remind me of the parking lot meeting, the one that actually accomplishes the work that didn’t quite happen before the scheduled meeting was adjourned.
There’s something about walking away from the bed, away from the intensity of the space that allows walls to drop and people to speak more freely. Handshakes become hugs, small talk becomes real talk. Fear and sorrow aren’t hidden behind bravado – false or otherwise.
There is a place for the direct question, the one that is so direct that it catches the hearer off-guard enough that they answer simply out of respect for the courage it takes to ask. I think, though, that it needs to be asked one-on-one, where even a no-longer-responsive loved one can’t overhear.