A couple of weeks ago, as I spoke with someone, I tried to weave into the conversation that Happy New year/Happy Christmas text messages weren't very appropriate for me because this Christmas was only my second one without my son. I mentioned that I had been sent several of them but carefully refrained from pointing out that she had sent one.
She argued, saying it was because people wanted others to know they were thinking of them. I explained that it didn’t feel like that for me because if they really were thinking of me they’d realise that it was a thoughtless thing to do. She said, “Oh it’s not thoughtless – they just feel happy and want you to as well - it’s just that they just don’t think.” I was gobsmacked. I don’t think she got the irony of what she had just said. "It's not thoughtless ... they just don't think."
As I tried to explain that ‘not thinking’ is just the same as ‘thoughtless’, she shook her head and shifted the focus of the conversation. She talked about how she missed her mother, who died several years ago. She said that she thought about her every day but no one knew that and neither did she expect them to. She genuinely seemed to think that her losing her parent was the same as me losing my child.
Again, I tried to explain by pointing out that, however sad it might be, we generally expect to lose our parents but we rarely expect to lose our children. I used the oft quoted, “When a parent dies, you lose your past, but when a child dies, you lose your future.”
However, she actually corrected me saying, “No - you didn’t lose your future - Al lost his.” She, a long-standing, fully qualified counsellor, was incapable of seeing what she had just said. I got half way through an explanation of how of course it was my future too – I was prevented from celebrating his 18th birthday, from handing him his present of a course of driving lessons, from seeing him settle down, from playing with my grandchildren ... but I gave up. It was pointless. Her eyes had glazed.
Several times I asked, “where is the empathy?” She didn’t answer – how could she? And anyway, the question was rhetorical. She was incapable of answering it because she couldn't even admit to herself, that the real answer is, “There is none.”