Pillars Of Salt

Some days are harder than others. I went to a funeral today. A woman I have known for fifteen years but barely know. How can it be possible to know someone for fifteen years and not know that they like banana cake better than any other cake in the world? Or doo wop groups from the 50s? Or deep red lipstick only available in New York?

Maybe it’s better to say –Ā  callous as it sounds – I was aware this woman existed but I was unaware of most of the details which defined her?

Etta was my husband’s friend rather than mine. She and her partner were my husband’s best drinking buddies for several years. You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? It was the drinking, the constant drinking and staggering home at two in the morning while I had been sat at home alone for the third night in a row with an asthmatic two year old that caused me to put up a wall through which I could not see the true content of Etta’s character.

For years I regarded Etta with resentment. I blamed her for the problems in my marriage. I believed she was enabling my husband’s bad behaviour. It is possible that to a certain extent she was, but most of the enabling came from little old me. I can see that now but at the time she was the closest thing to a scapegoat I could find.

Etta liked to party. She was welcoming and generous but sometimes when her little kids were still up at 2AM on a school night or came to school with dirty faces, I thought she had gone too far. We clashed. We fought. She said I was bossy and uptight. I said she was bossy and impetuous.

For about four years we didn’t talk, sidestepping each other like strangers if we happened to meet in the street. When she got sick I felt bad, sent her cards and presents, I even popped round to her house one day with a casserole, but she didn’t answer the door even though I had seen her through the window.

‘Screw you,’ I said under my breath as I left the casserole on the doorstep. ‘You just can’t let things go, can you?’

When she was admitted to hospital my husband wanted us to volunteer to help out with the kids. I feel bad about it but I refused. I couldn’t excuse her past behaviour just because she was ill. I kept looking backwards, expecting to see pillars of salt dissolving in the wind.

I wanted to forgive and forget but I remembered the long, lonely nights for years and years which she knew about (because I told her), so I couldn’t. My resentment towards her kept itself alive, gorging and binging until it stood like a monolith between us.

In her final days I went to the hospital but she didn’t know me – out of her head on morphine. I wanted to make my peace but the chance never presented itself.

It’s an odd feeling when you know someone is dying – you feel this incredible urge to absolve yourself. It’s as if no matter what they have done to you in the past, they are forgiven due to the fact they will soon be gone.

I felt like a hypocrite at the funeral. There were over 200 people there. Two hundred people who saw good things in Etta I didn’t see. Two hundred people who knew stories about lipstick and banana cake and old songs split into three part harmonies.

As I sat listening to them reminisce, recounting amusing tales from the past, describing a woman completely opposite to the one I knew; I realised of how many parts a person is made. And often not every part is revealed to each person we meet. Most of us hold at least one thing back until we can be sure of acceptance, of being treated with care.

I am sorry Etta is gone. I am sorry for her sons, her husband, her wonderful sisters, her friends with their hilarious anecdotes. But most of all I am sorry that in fifteen years I never got the chance to know her as she really was.

30 thoughts on “Pillars Of Salt

  1. I’ve been in the position where people have made saints out of sinners after death and I never liked that, yet, forgiveness is so, so powerful.
    It’s also about how you “see” someone, through what filter (filters we all have).
    I am sorry for your experience.


  2. It’s hard to let go of past ills, and even harder once the opportunity is gone. I have a few of these experiences in my own life. I think we all do.



  3. It is what it is, or essentially it was what it was. You can’t change it so don’t beat yourself up about it. You are a good person, you just didn’t see eye to eye with Etta.

    I won’t have any internet access for the next couple of days. I’ll peek in on you when I get back. Have a good weekend.


  4. Sweetums, you did know her as she was. Whatever experiences you had with her are what she was. Not all of her, but who she allowed herself to be with you.

    I’m not trying to negate your feelings–I know that they are real. But I am suggesting, with much love, that you give yourself permission to not regret a relationship that was flawed on many levels. Hugs to you.


  5. Um, Heather said exactly what I was going to say.

    I understand what it’s like being left out of things because you need to be with the sick child and not out partying. You didn’t get to see the fun side of Etta because she chose not to show it to you. We don’t love everyone, and sometimes we can’t explain why in a way that makes sense to anyone but us. And that’s ok. We listen to our heart and follow it, because we have to live with ourselves a lot longer than many people we meet.

    Oh, fiddlesticks. Just listen to Heather. She said it better.


  6. You have nothing to feel bad about Selma from what I’m reading.

    Wow, I’d call your patience level amazing,all things considered in regards to your husband’s actions and also those of Etta’s. She doesn’t sound like anyone you missed much with and I am sorry that she caused you so much pain and loneliness too.

    It is redeeming to focus on the fact that you and your husband got past this rocky time and went on to be close and secure in your relationship together.

    Hugs, G


  7. When people we know die we are so often left with the question “why didn’t I…” but then it’s too late.I know exactly how you feel Selma, someone I know has recently died and I have a bad conscience.The difference being, you have nothing to blame yourself for.
    Why do so many men put their friends and drinks before their wives.? As a woman I will probably never understand it.


  8. It’s amazing how easy it is to start disliking someone, and how difficult it is to stop. Just a little bit of rudness from some people and I have to admit I’m capable of hating them forever. And I consider myself a pretty forgiving person. I’m afraid that the fact of the matter is that it’s simply unrealistic to expect to be friends or get along well with everyone. There are many people who we will never connect with or will actively dislike for a variety of reasons. Let me echo what others have said here: Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t blame yourself. You’re not meant to connect well with everyone.

    Geez, I could use a reminder of that myself sometimes.

    On a completely unrelated note, I wanted to give you a link to a very brief little one paragraph post I wrote on the song Itchycoo Park, by the Small Faces. I recall you saying that you like the band, so I thought you might be interested:



  9. Hi Selma. You’re sooo kind.
    I’m not so sure I’ll be so forgiving, if/when the time comes that someone who repeatedly betrayed me/my interests would receive all my forgiveness, just because they were dying. I kinda feel like when someone is ill, it’s THEIR time to start making amends. But that’s just me.
    Peace, kid. You’re great.


  10. You have such eloquent readers — they said what I was going to say.

    The person you knew her to be is as real as the person they knew. We’re all a bit of good and bad. Sounds like she had her issues too. Don’t beat yourself up — I probably wouldn’t even have gone to the funeral.


  11. Selma, I have to agree with Nat – everything I was going to say has already been said… I am so sorry that this happened and you are trying to figure it all out, but in my book you are a really amazing person. Thinking to what you said about the casserole, you left it for her even though she never opened the door – I on the other hand might have just gone home with the casserole and said “Screw you” also. You are a very forgiving and kind person, who will go out of her way to make someone feel better. A big hug from me…


  12. BRITT – I tried. At least I gave it a shot. I feel better knowing I did that.

    BRENDA -what an absolute treat to hear from you. That happened with my Scottish grandmother. She was turned from sinner to saint overnight as a result of leaving my aunts and uncles a big wad of cash. Yet, she was vitriolic and miserable when she was alive. I am not a fan of that, either, yet I do believe it is important to try and forgive. It’s all so complicated, really. Once again, a real pleasure to hear from you!

    L’URAGANO – thanks so much for stopping by. You are absolutely right. Human nature is so amazingly complex. So many layers, many of which are hidden. Thank you for your kind comment!

    TEXASBLU – that makes me feel a little better. You are a very sweet person!

    LINDA – very sound advice. You are totally right. We’re not going to see eye to eye with every person we meet in life, are we? Hope you have a fabulous weekend away. I can’t wait to hear about it!

    HEATHER – you wise woman, you. What would I do without you? XXX

    KAREN – I’m laughing at the use of fiddlesticks. I am very impressed that you are sticking to the non-cursing regime. Thanks for your kind words. They make perfect sense.

    GERALDINE – we did get past it but sometimes it rankles. Etta did cause me a lot of pain. And we didn’t mix together that much. I guess I’m just feeling bad for the ones left behind.

    DIAMONDS – I don’t get it, either. There is a sense of dismissiveness about it that is very hurtful. I am sorry that the person you have lost has left you with a bad conscience. However, can I say that sometimes it’s not always possible to fix up everything that has happened in the past. The fact that you feel bad means you wished things could be different. And sometimes that is enough. Hugs to you.

    RICHARD – you are right. How is it possible to be bosom buddies with every person you come across? There will always be someone who rubs you up the wrong way. Thanks, mate!
    P.S. I commented on your Small Faces post….

    LISA – that is a very important point. There was no sense of trying to make things right from Etta’s end. Wow. I feel like a weight has just come off my shoulders. Thank you so much. I hope you are feeling a little better. XXX

    NAT – I am so fortunate to be hanging out with all these eloquent and articulate people. What did I do to deserve this? Really, it is a genuine pleasure. I am laughing right now because I considered not going to the funeral but I thought it would look bad. It was a real tug of war with the old conscience, though. You really are brilliant!

    TBALL – that means so much to me. How kind you are. I should have taken that casserole home, shouldn’t I? She probably just threw it in the bin. I never got the dish back, either.

    HEATHER – for realz? Just what I need. I’ll be right over!


  13. Don’t beat yourself up about this; you can’t like everyone, and, from what you say, there was little to like about this lady. And, don’t feel bad about going to her funeral. Look at it like you were there to support your husband, whose friend she was.


  14. TRAVELRAT – thank you for your very wise advice. Yeah, there’s no point putting myself through the wringer, is there? And I did go for my husband. I know he appreciated it so I guess I did what I had to. Cheers.


  15. I’m not sure anyone ever knows anybody as they really are, including themselves. We all con ourselves into liking parts of ourselves and ignoring other parts. And similarly, whenever we interact with another person, a part of them goes on to define how we interact with them.
    Don’t blame yourself, Selma. We’re all far too complicated for that.


  16. i think everyone we know serves a purpose.. unfortunately,, with some,, it is their death that is the precursor to what they were here to teach us.. this may be the case here,, and her passing may have opened up a portal of you that would have remained closed had you known,, but not really known her at all…..


  17. I agree wholeheartedly with Heather. It is in our nature to want to make peace when someone we’ve had conflict with is dying. But sometimes, its just best to accept that we had the relationship we did with the person and, though we wish them well on the continuation of their journey, we understand that we had the experience of them that we had, and that’s okay. No need for anything more.


  18. ANTHONY – thanks for that. We are multi-layered, complex beings aren’t we? There are only a few people in life we can come to know really well. And even then there are no guarantees.

    EPIPHANY – that makes me feel so much better. Such good advice. Thank you.

    MELEAH – I am beginning to feel a little better today, especially with all these wonderful comments. Thanks, hon!


  19. PAISLEY – what you have said is so profound. If this event allows me to understand myself and my purpose a little more then I shouldn’t look on it with such a sense of regret. Thank you. XX


  20. Selma, at the ripe old age of 88, I’ve come to this conclusion: you can’t be “all things” to someone incapable of being “all things” in return. Love is a two-way street. To get love, one must give love. There are some people so wrapped up in themselves they are blind to all needs but their own. I don’t usually quote anything from the Bible, but I will use this idiom: “Shake the sand from your sandals and walk away with a free and guiltless mind”.


  21. So many times aren’t we just our worst enemies? Please Selma- you’re human. Must we be kind to people who have no kindness for us just because they are dying? Sorry- not me. Life is too short.


  22. We all see people in different ways and we cannot get on with everyone. You and this woman simply didn’t get on – maybe you might have done if circumstances had been different but they weren’t.

    In a way it is sad that there was this gulf between you but on the other hand it is just part of life (and death).

    Don’t let it prey on your mind just because this woman died.

    Hope you got another Freddo!


  23. I will be facing something similar myself, maybe in twenty years, maybe much sooner. I have already seen the paradox of the love and admiration from people they’ve shown a particular side of themselves to; while I know something completely different. We have an edgy peace, though, which may help when the time comes, but too much history for me to ever see them with the innocence that others do.

    This post and the comments are very helpful to me too.


  24. MARY – I cannot begin to tell you how much what you have just said means to me. Thank you, thank you. From the bottom of my heart. And the top. And the middle. XXX

    LAURI – you are right. I am fooling myself to think otherwise. I think I was blinded by empathy and compassion. Thanks for your common sense advice.

    RELUCTANT BLOGGER – thank you for your kind words. I really appreciate them. And yes, I did get another Freddo. LOL.

    DAOINE – I am so sorry you may have to face something similar. Writing this post has helped me make sense of things. But it is the wisdom and eloquence of all the commenters that have helped me find clarity. If you have been helped in any way then I am delighted!


  25. There isn’t anything left to say that hasn’t already been said Selma…so all I will say is that you are a good person with a kind and loving heart and you have nothing to feel badly about. At least you attended the funeral in spite of how you felt about Etta and I’m sure your hubby was glad to have you there.


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