Call Me if You Need Anything

How many times, when comforting a grieving friend, do we say, “Call me if you need anything” without really thinking about it? Most of us mean it, but doesn’t that question come with a caveat? Isn’t the subtext really, “Call me if you need anything . . . but with a limit”?

Take for example my friend Jennifer. Jennifer’s husband died about a year ago. After quitting booze and pot, and losing her cat shortly after her husband’s death, she’s had some rough times over the past few months. Several people at her husband’s funeral gave her a hug and said, “Call me if you need anything.”

That one little statement opened up Pandora’s Box. People who saw Jennifer and her husband only  a few times a year now answer calls from her two or three times a day, at times ranging from way too early in the morning to way too late at night. Rather than asking for what she needs, though, most of the time the conversation begins with the subject of her husband or cat and ends with the recipient promising a visit. People know she’s lonely, so they don’t mind most calls, but sometimes these conversations have verged on the bizarre. She called us one time and said there were voices coming from her condo’s living room. She claimed there used to be a mine under her property, and the voices belonged to the dead miners who worked there. When asked, “Don’t you think those could be your neighbors’ voices coming through the ductwork?” she got mad and then explained that her pastor and a friend from church were coming over to pray about the voices and perform an exorcism. Now she says she realizes the “shadow people” are not there to harm her, so she lets them touch her feet while she’s asleep.

On another occasion we found ourselves in a drama over her husband’s music collection. Jennifer told us her therapist suggested giving away anything that caused a painful memory, and since her husband was a music lover, she packed up her husband’s extensive CD collection. Wanting to help, my husband travelled across town through a snowstorm to pick them up because she made it sound so urgent. Jennifer called him the next day, crying and begging him to return the collection, saying giving it away was a mistake. Two days later, she called back and told him to sell the (mostly homemade) CDs so they could split the profits. The CDs are still in our basement.

People care about Jennifer, but up until her husband’s funeral, people had hardly spoken to her because most of them were her husband’s friends. It’s not that people don’t care, but how much they are willing to offer changes over time as the events that triggered the extra care get further into the past. People hope that over time, she will find a new way to cope with her newfound single lifestyle. They don’t want to lose touch with her; they just want her to fade back into the background where she used to be, so visits to her home won’t feel so awkward.

I guess the moral of the story is, unless it is a person you spend time with regularly, don’t say “Call me if you need anything” unless you really mean it. You never know what you’re letting yourself in for.