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August 12, 2013

communication

Coach and I enjoyed dinner out Saturday night to celebrate our 17th Anniversary.  After all these years, we still recognize our marriage is a work in progress.  We agree that communication is still the area that needs the most attention.  Our lives are so hectic that we often converse through sleepy grunts, scribbles on scraps of paper, and misconstrued body language.  Truthfully, even before the kids, the house, and the financial strain that came with both, we weren't always on the same page.

While we were dating, Coach lived with his folks about 45 minutes north of my little one bedroom condo.  He worked in a lab while he was applying to physical therapy schools hoping this would be the year he was accepted.  I interviewed candidates for an insurance company in hopes of identifying someone willing to work on 100% commission.  We sometimes spoke briefly on the phone during the day, but often we would talk in the evening when we were home because he didn't always have a phone at his disposal.  Yes, we are old enough to have dated prior to cell phones, texting, and constant communication in general. 

One night after work, I drove to his parents house to join his family for dinner.  Coach's maternal grandmother, who lived  out of state, was quite ill with pancreatic cancer.  I could tell when I arrived that his mom seemed emotional and flustered.  I avoided asking for an update on her mother so as not to upset her further.  Looking back, I feel like this was extremely insensitive of me.  Knowing the outcome of the evening, however, I am relieved that I chose not to inquire about her mom's health. 

I recall most of Coach's four siblings (his brothers are four and eight years younger than Coach, so they still lived at home and his sister had come in from her apartment in the city) and his parents being at the table that night.  Conversation at dinner included travel plans, funeral arrangements, lots of faraway glances, and sniffles.  I assumed that the end was close for grandma, and I was hearing the plans that were inevitable.  In an uncharacteristic move on my part, I said very little.  I felt like I was infringing on a very private family event, and wished my boyfriend had told me this wouldn't be a good night for dinner after all.

When Coach and I were alone after dinner, I asked him if there was something new that had happened with his grandma's health that I was unaware of.  He looked at me with a puzzled expression.  "My grandma died today."  Shock.  Horror.  Confusion.  Disgust.  We had spoken briefly on the phone that day.  He called me in my office to check that I was still coming for dinner.  How could he have failed to mention that his grandma had passed away?  He said that he had told so many people at work, that he didn't realize that he hadn't told me.  Completely understandable, right?  The woman that you love, who you've invited to dinner in a household of grieving family members, is overlooked when it comes to sharing very important news?  Without this information, her demeanor can be misconstrued by her future mother in law as indifference.  Could I be put in a more awkward position?  Doubtful.

I looked like an ignorant slob.  Worse.  I had entered the house and not expressed any empathy for her situation.  I ate a meal prepared by a woman whose mother had just died, and I acted unmoved and cold.  Perfect.  Where do you go from here?  If I offered my condolences now, I looked silly, emotionally unavailable, immature, and mentally delayed at best.  Could I explain that Coach failed to inform me that his grandma passed away?  Then he looks like an idiot.  In the end, we went with making Coach look bad.  He still had the unconditional love thing going for him.  His own mother probably recognized his communication short comings, and it might not even surprise her.  I, on the other hand, had so much more to lose.  Coach and I were already talking marriage.  How long would it take before she got over my odd behavior at dinner, if she didn't realize the circumstances of my lack of information? 

Before I slunk out the front door to leave the family to grieve, I offered my sincere condolences and Coach explained his goof in how he thought he had told me the unfortunate news during our 30 second conversation that day.  I'm sure it mattered little in the big picture to his mom that I didn't offer my sympathies initially, because she had just lost her mother.  It mattered to me though.

While we have bumped over other communication snafus in the last 17 years, I don't think there has been one quite so essential.  Even if there had been cellular phones, I can just hear Coach now . . . "I thought I texted you that my grandma died."  I should print this out and wave it around each time Coach claims to have the upper hand in a lack-of-communication dispute between us.  "You really think I am the one who can't communicate?  Do you remember the day your grandma passed?"

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