Dear Non-Familial Acquaintance from the Past*,
I heard you learned that we've had some difficulty and loss in our family, and wanted to offer your love and support. Thank you. Truly, thank you. If the rest of this letter is totally off the mark, remember that most of all. We appreciate it. We appreciate you.
I understand you want to know if there's anything you can do. Thank you for that too. You could bring food, I suppose, or call and check on us in a few weeks. That would be nice. You could maybe spend some time with certain relations of ours you already see regularly, the ones who'd like nothing better than a plate of deviled eggs, a Village Inn pie, and an extended visit. You know who I mean. Mostly, though, you've already done it: Just be supportive.
Here's what not to do: Don't drop by.
I know. I'm mean. (It's my role in the family. My husband's the Nice One Who Says Yes to Everything; I'm the Mean One Who Says What Needs to Be Said, but Not Always as Nicely as I Should.)
I know you want to help. But it just doesn't make sense. We hardly see or talk to some of you anymore. We like you just fine, even love you. We just don't know how to spend time with you, next to each other, in the same physical space. For over an hour, sometimes. (Seriously, you guys. Did you know that?! Some people get together on purpose like this, and be sociable human beings, for hours! Who knew?) But my husband and I are tired from dealing with said loss/difficulty, and mostly, we royally suck at having company.
Here's what happens when you drop by.
First scenario: You don't call at all. We hear a car door slam. I run up the stairs, almost breaking my neck falling over the cat, to get a visual on the driveway. I see you coming up the sidewalk, so I barrel back downstairs (almost breaking my leg falling over the other cat). I holler at my husband that you're here. He and I run around in crazed circles for a moment as we decide which one of us is going to answer the door and which one of us is going to shovel the debris and laundry into the office to hide it while you're here. As he plasters on a smile, I'm dumping most of our belongs beside the computer desk. As he opens the door, I'm scrubbing the toilet at light speed. As you sit down ("Sorry for the mess!" I holler from the bathroom), I'm changing out of my possibly-offensive Lost-reference T-shirt ("Hell of a book. It's about bunnies."), while simultaneously grabbing a few pairs of soiled boy's underwear and shoving them under my shirt so you don't see as I sneak them to the laundry room. Finally, we awkwardly entertain you for however long you plan to stay, which is never really made clear to us.
Second scenario: You give us a small warning, like twenty minutes to an hour. This gives my husband and I more time to do the stairs running/ cat kicking/ junk hiding/ shirt changing/ toilet scrubbing routine, and maybe even time to half-assedly vacuum or hide the dirty dishes. (We like to go the extra mile.) Unfortunately, it's not enough extra time to do a good thorough job, but it is enough extra time for us to fight about where to hide the junk, blame each other for not cleaning enough, gripe at whoever left the mess in the first place; and somehow, by the end, we're having a HUGE SCREAMING MATCH about whether the TV trays look best stacked behind the dining room table or next to the Guitar Hero drums, and why it is or isn't a waste of time to wash them first. Then, the doorbell rings. We awkwardly entertain you for however long you plan to stay, which is never really made clear to us.
Those are the only two scenarios that ever happen. Somehow, I suspect it would quickly derail even if you gave us ample warning. Because, get this, we're busy. With lives, and obligations, and a kid, and jobs. I know, I know. I work from home and the road; and my husband works nights, so it's not like either of us have "real" jobs. The thing about our "easy" jobs? They can actually be quite a bit more exhausting than normal-hour jobs. We just don't have that many hours left in the day, and when we get to them, we're up for being in the company of one or two other people, tops.
Obviously, I make some exceptions. I'd look forward to going out to eat with you, Acquaintance. Especially if we just had a good time, and left it at that. Just having a good time. That would help. But don't feel obligated, because I'm totally fine just keeping in touch with you, especially right now.
And in our own home, we just want to sit in our ugly clothes, not worry about the dingy toilet or the pizza box on the kitchen shelf or the underwear mountain in the bathroom, pet the poor cats, fib on the time so we can tuck our kid in early, and watch Terra Nova until we fall asleep.
*Like I said, non-familial. Family has a standing free pass, even if our house is awful. Also, if I've ever actually said "We should get together" or some similar phrase (no matter how bad I am at following through), I don't mean you. I don't say things I don't mean, and trust me, I don't solicit unwanted social contact. I'm like Sheldon, you guys. But even Sheldon has friends.