I tried to figure out why I had this response to this emotional grief compared to my relative lack thereof when my father's wife passed away a couple months ago. The easiest part of the answer (which remains incomplete) was that Freda died suddenly and without warning (the victim of a freakish traffic accident), unlike my dad whose wife died after battling cancer for 10 years. Because sudden, unexpected losses are far more traumatic, Mike's grief was less under control... more raw -- even after three weeks of dealing with it. I'm not belittling the type of grief my dad experienced, but I think when you're witnessing the type exhibited by someone like Mike your heart goes out to them more readily and easily -- even if they are not a loved one.
The hard part to admit about my response--and I hate to admit this because it makes me feel small and petty--was that I probably liked Freda more than I liked my dad's wife. I know that her appearances on Mike's show presented her in a very filtered fashion, but she honestly came across as far more likable than my dad's wife. If you've been reading carefully, you will see I never referred to her as my step-mother. She married him just a couple months shy of my 18th birthday, and while they had dated for a couple years beforehand, I really never saw her as any sort of mother-figure in my life. Second, and more importantly, she managed to anger me with her repeated attempts to insert herself into my life as a mother-figure and with the way she successfully did so with my younger brother. When she died, I just felt sorrow for what my dad, half-sister and brother were going through.
As I thought more about Mike's situation, I came to the conclusion I don't do enough to show my own wife how much I care. With everything going on in our lives, it's difficult to really make the time for just us and easy to say I've been too busy to do more than I have. Saying "I love you" as often as possible isn't enough. I need to take the time to make more little, though much appreciated, gestures such as a card, flowers for no particular reason (rather than giving them just when I'm in the doghouse) or even trying to compose some of the tortured verse that passes for my poetry -- something I haven't done in years. I made myself promises to do so in the past and have failed thus far.
I want to avoid slipping into the platitudes and cliches about living, expressing your feelings for those you care about it and taking for granted that you can mend broken relationships later on... yadda, yadda, yadda. It's too easy and cheap. Suffice it to say that I want to make an effort to show my loved ones how much they mean to me and take the time to communicate with them more. It's impossible and almost silly to try to make sure that the last words you ever say to someone are ones of love -- anger, hurt and the resulting ability to hold grudges are a far too big a part of the human psyche -- but you can make sure that the people you love know in no uncertain terms how much you need, love and appreciate them. It's difficult to overdo that.