someone recently asked if they could make dinner for me. Actually, a few meals.
I can't say I was ecstatic, because that would imply I was jumping up and down. I was relieved. Cooking during student teaching has been a challenge. Right now, to not have to think about cooking is the single most best thing someone could say to me. This week I've cried over a spilled cup of coffee, a kid putting their hand in mine as we're walking down the hall, and someone asking "So, how was your break?" I keep telling myself not to stress about it; it's the grief process and it's normal. Right now, one of the biggest smacks to my face is singledom. Usually it's flying far enough under the radar that I can successfully ignore my personal feelings about the hundreds of engagement and pregnancy announcements on facebook, the wedding and baby pictures and be genuinely happy for people. Except for right now when I'm feeling super sensitive, and it includes sensitivity to everything. And "can we make a few meals for you" turned into "treat yourself to a favorite restaurant". And the way I read into it.
The question I've come to abhor the most through this entire experience is "Let me know if/what I/we can do something." Real Simple recently published an article about helping out friends with long term illnesses and they cautioned asking this question as well. I think a lot of the same applies to people who are grieving. Do, folks. Or don't bother asking. Because right now, it's overwhelming.
When someone drops the "... what I can do." bomb, I feel * awkward, as stated in the mentioned article about asking for what I need, because it could well be an incredible, guilt inducing or rage inciting inconvenience. Asking "If there's anything I can do..." is too open ended; you just asked me to grasp at straws floating around in a cream base soup. Saying, "Can I cook for you?" was great - it was specific, it was tangible.
The blow came when the offer to cook was rescinded. I used to love to cook. More than just cooking I loved to find out what someone's favorite thing was and make it for them. But I don't have it in me to cook; it's too much energy. This whole thing is so overwhelming that simple choices can be difficult to make. Do not ask me on a good day to pick where we're eating; I will give you three choices where I'd maybe like to eat and then make you pick, end of story, no arguing.
As I said before, I'm super sensitive right now, to everything. I got everything bottled up partway through this week so I could keep it together for the class day, and came home where I could fall apart in peace. So when I read "treat yourself" it translated immediately in my head to "well, we remembered you're single, and cooking for one is a huge pain. So rather than inconvenience us by figuring out portions for little old you, just take yourself out. Because that's easier for us. Sound OK? Thanks."
I felt like I had been smacked. You're single, and we just don't know what to do with you. If you were married, well, there would be two of you, and that wouldn't be so hard. We know what to do with married. But it's just you, so go out, and pick your favorite, off you trot.
Now, this may not be the case. It's possible that something legitimate came up, and that I am okay with. The fact remains that the last thing I want to do right now is go out. I could be wrong, but I don't think a spouse and I would want to go out, grieving a loss. I could be wrong; maybe I'd feel braver with somebody else in my boat. Furthermore, if I had just had a baby, no one would say to me, gotta back out, pack it up and head out. It takes one word, one look and I start crying. And I don't have a favorite, on a good day. So right now, on a bad day, you want me to make a decision about food. Find parking in the city. Or drive out to the suburbs. And go out and interact with someone who could look at me funny, and I'd start crying, because I take 20 minutes to figure out what I want to eat because eating is the furthest thing from my mind. And you want me to go alone. I don't like going out to eat alone anyway. That I'm there alone would be enough to incite tears right now. Restaurants don't like it when single people occupy tables that a couple could be sitting at on the weekend. Couples = more revenue. And I happen to be single.
How do you say all or any of that in the nicest way possible without sounding like a total, ungrateful jerk? Thanks for your initial offer, and now your second offer but ... no thanks and here's why? I was relieved about not having to cook when this was initiated. It meant one less thing I would have to think about. Any left overs would mean lunch for school; one further less thing to think about. So, no. Sorry, I can't treat myself. Going out to eat alone, right now, is not a treat. It's a bit frightening and exhausting.
This article from the LA times, while not what I'm kvetching about exactly, does a great job summing up much of what I've been feeling of late, and in a round about way, addresses this whole, sorry, we're not cooking for you, take yourself out. How not to say the wrong thing.