“I’ve just realised you’re the Vicar’s wife!”
Her eyes are wide and she wears half a smile, as she strides over to me in the midst of the Toddler Group. This kind of greeting has become more frequent recently, since Husband’s T.I. (and every other colleague) vacated the role, and he took on the leadership of another, third Church. (You know, the one with the over-subscribed school…)
I smile back and await the usual questions about his timetable, and when he’ll actually be around to sign the form. Except it soon becomes apparent that this time, it’s different…
“My little girl died-” she starts.
“I think we’d better sit down,” I say, and we do. I make eye contact and listen and wonder how on earth Husband manages these conversations so professionally and pastorally; especially when such harsh emotional circumstances intertwine with burial plot logistics and church politics and questionable decisions from his predecessor and interesting theology around the death of a child that you can’t possible interfere with.
And I clench. Hard.
Because the horrible funny-not-funny reality of this moment is that I’m not a Vicar. I’m not trained in pastoral care and I do not have any say in the logistics or legalities of burial plots. But I am human. And I did have a curry last night, and I have, up until this point, been subtly secreting toxic gasses into empty corners and moving swiftly away, leaving a few unsuspecting toddlers to have their bottoms sniffed in public. Yes, I am a disgusting human being. And this disgusting human being is now fully aware that it would be incredibly inappropriate to break eye contact and walk away from this conversation whilst the poor woman is describing her harrowing experience with loss and with Husband’s new Church. But, I also appreciate, it would also be incredibly inappropriate to pour out my gasses whilst she pours out her heart. Right now, however, I fear that these two rules cannot possibly coexist!
And so I clench. I clench and I clench and I clench with all of my might and I try not to look red or distracted or indeed, inflated. And finally, eventually, thankfully, a moment arises and I say, “Do you know what? This is too important- let me go and call my husband right now!”
And I run out of the room. Out of her eyesight and into the foyer like the wind; phone in hand, fire in pants; expelling the devil with every stride and establishing the Hotline that is the Vicar’s Wife.
Well there you have it.
They don’t teach you much in Spouse School… but they definitely don’t teach you this.