Modern Loss is a place to share the unspeakably taboo, unbelievably hilarious, and unexpectedly beautiful terrain of navigating your life after a death. We serve up candid personal essays and timely resources with no judgments. Beginners welcome.
By Rebecca Shaloff
It always went the same way. I’d hesitantly accept the dinner invitation. The evening would start smoothly. Then, as the appetizers were being cleared, someone would start with the innocent, nice-to-meet-you dinner questions.
“Oh, nearby in Kemp Mill,” I said one night, in response to one woman’s query as to my hometown. My shoulders stiffened. I’d survived the first round. But just the first one. On this occasion, it took only two questions.
“Do your parents still live there?”
We were barely past the hors d’oeuvres, but suddenly it felt like I was being asked to serve up my reality as the entrée. Still so raw, I answered quietly, trying to give away nothing, “My Dad does.”
My mother had died suddenly from a stroke a few months earlier. Ever since, even the simplest acts, such as accepting a dinner invitation, had become fraught with anxiety. Small talk resembled a firing squad, as I struggled to anticipate and avoid questions that seemed to fly at me like bullets. The metaphor may seem extreme, but at this point in the grieving process, each word I uttered on the topic actually physically hurt.
After too many experiences choking up over chitchat and chicken soup, I finally developed some small talk survival techniques. Here’s my menu of ways to navigate the dinner table minefield while living with loss.