Emotions in conflict

It happened again: I had wanted to go to two different events in two different places at the same time. Both were intensely emotional, and both closely linked. I was invited to a meeting at the hospital in Amsterdam where my wife had undergone many operations and treatments for cancer; it would be only my second return visit since her death, thus generating conflicting feelings. The first visit had been to thank the doctors and nurses for their efforts, alas ultimately in vain. Somehow that was the easier visit. This time I was returning with feelings that this was the place where she could eat normally for the last time, where she spoke for the last time. After operations, she could no longer eat and finally no longer speak. And then I got news of a friend, a colleague passing, also from cancer. The funeral would be on the same day. I should go to the funeral, and I should revisit the hospital. I could not do both.

Whatever I chose would be the wrong decision. Did I decide to go to Amsterdam for my own feelings? Almost certainly. It was somehow comforting to be in the same places where I had escorted and wheeled my wife, to feel as though Eva were there with me during the meeting, answering the impossible questions in my mind. And yet it was equally discomforting to think of my friend at the same time. I should have been at the funeral. Emotional dissonance.

But emotions are strange animals. The death of my wife also raised feelings of guilt: I could have done more, I could have said something different, I could have … Yes, I could have. Now it was more conflictual guilt. Before I went to Amsterdam, I knew I was venturing into expected and unexpected emotions, but it was something I had to do. How to rebalance afterwards? What better than a concert?

Eva had loved music, with an eclectic taste for the popular and classic. She had been brought up with the music of Strauss, Lehar, and Kalman, and the great Russian composers. So a concert at the Concertgebouw by the Nederlands Philarmonisch Orkest playing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition seemed apt. I had played Mussorgsky’s “Dance of the Persian Slaves” from Khovanshina at her funeral, and the ‘Pictures’ had long memories for me (see post ‘Of musical memories’ December 2010). So I had bought a ticket months before. And I still felt the conflict, at experiencing enjoyment in the midst of sadness, at experiencing enjoyment that I could not share with my wife.

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