It’s not easy to be selfless

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October 17, 2013 by nooffensebut

My boyfriend’s grandmother died last week.

His mother didn’t have his new cell number with her, I guess, so she called me. I walked up to his place of work to let him know.

“OK, thank you,” he said, before walking away quickly. “I’ll see you later.”

So this is the part where I’m a horrible, selfish person: As I headed back home, I found myself feeling a little hurt by his reaction. Yes, he was at work, and no, he’s not a person who makes scenes or carries on, but didn’t he need me just for a minute, for a hug or to be there while the news sank in?

Fortunately, it only took me about five minutes to remember that everyone has his or her own way of dealing with tragedy, and that when you’re on the sidelines, your job is to support the other person in the way they need to be supported.

I knew Joe wasn’t going to get home and wax poetic about his feelings. He wasn’t going to be in a state of disbelief — his grandmother was 90 years old and in poor health. And he wasn’t going to scream and cry about the unfairness of death. But he probably was going to be hungry.

So I made mashed potatoes. I’m the healthier eater (I can hear him scoffing) among the two of us, so ordinarily I’d try to sneak in cauliflower, or use skim milk. But this time, I made them the way I knew he would like them — half-and-half, lots of butter, lots of salt, lots of pepper.

Artery clogging aside, it’s the best thing I could have done for him. Ten years ago, when my grandfather passed, Joe took me to the movies the night before I flew to Baltimore for the funeral to keep my mind off being too worried or sad. A month later, he went with me to visit my grandmother (she died in 2007) and sat through hours upon hours of photo albums and anecdotes, listening and asking questions; not because hearing about my late grandfather, whom he’d never met, was so fascinating to a 21-year-old guy, but because talking about him helped my grandmother, and being able to help my grandmother helped me.

Fortunately, we’re both pretty good in a crisis. But in less-tragic moments, there are times when we both have a tendency to focus more on our own perspective than on the other person’s. Like when he responds to a debate in a way that makes more sense to him than it does to me. Or when I remind him, less than gently, about how some of his career challenges have affected me. Inasmuch as I’d love to be able to say we’re both entirely loving and giving all the time, that would not be the whole truth. Selflessness is an ongoing lesson to be learned, and we certainly both have our selfish moments.

“Has it not been made clear to you by now,” I once asked him, “that everything is all about me?”

I was kidding.

Kind of.

 

Originally published June 24, 2011 in the Chattanooga Times Free Press

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