It has been an interesting time in both my micro world and the world at large in the last wee while. Yesterday I was reminded that people’s perceptions as to how I ‘should’ be feeling ‘at this time’ after Jane’s death. Initially I found it jarring, bordering on offensive, but then I realised that what people are really saying when they think I am ‘not sad enough’, is that their grief has not been allowed to be expressed in the depth that I have let my grief sit with me.

They mean, your wife touched my life in profound ways that I don’t know how to process, nor express adequately. I gently explained to one of her friends yesterday that for me, it is easier to come to terms with her not being here because I am confronted with it multiple times throughout the day and nigh, every day, without fail. Therefore, I have had to find a way to have that sit with me. The perception may be, that I am not grieving enough, but I honestly don’t know how or why people can or would make a judgement on this.

I said to her friend that the hardest time is when I go home from being out anywhere, because that was ‘our time’, when we would catch up and share our day and just be, be together and be. He gently said that was when the loneliness would kick in, but actually that is just another perception, it is when the sadness kicks in. In my way of being, as an autistic, I tend not to be lonely when I am alone, it is not an emotion that I associate with being alone. Instead, for me loneliness appears when I am in a room full of people with whom I have been unable to connect. I was connected with Jane when we were together and when we were apart, and that connection remains, though I cannot physically be in the same room with her again.

I am not lonely after her death, alone yes, sad yes, devastated yes, connected to her wairua and our friends and whanau, yes. I think that the people who assume that I am not sad enough, do not understand who I am and how I process things, which is ok, but it is a shame that instead of taking the time to actually get to know me, that they feel that a perception of me is enough to pass judgement on me.

Over these two months, I have been reflecting on her life and her achievements, her struggles and the joy and care she brought to so many people; patients, friends, whanau, me. And of course our dog, who has become a guard dog now, taking his security dog t-shirt that Jane bought him extremely seriously, which would make her both very proud and highly amused.

The other perception that stuck me this week was around humour. A ‘joke’ was told in my presence, which was met with stony silence from everyone. A joke is only funny and not offensive if both the intent and the delivery are aligned with laughter in mind, and this was a cheap shot that was at best unkind and at worst highly offensive. Interestingly, after a minute the person actually apologised, and seemed to have a lightbulb moment that it really is not ok to say things that can be highly offensive and hurtful. Usually I pull people up on these kinds of behaviours, but I was feeling lonely and that sapped my energy. The other people, just like me, sat and stared at their plates in silence until the apology came, and then the conversation started again.

My perception is that many people are uncomfortable around any type of bigotry, but that they are more uncomfortable with the idea of challenging bigotry. I am not sure why this is, although it is not normally successful as a strategy to end bigotry, based on my experiences vocally challenging people in the past. I have now gained an awareness of the power of silence as judgement, as expression of distaste and disappointment. It seems to offer people a ‘face saving’ way out that direct confrontation or challenge doesn’t.

As you go about your lives this week, perhaps check in with yourself about how you are interacting with others, are you judging based on assumptions and perceptions or on well founded knowledge? Are you challenging bigotry through conflict or in ways that offer people the opportunity to change without direct confrontation?