I’m having a meal with my husband at a pub in Bristol, delighting in the warm and jovial conversation of the three older men having a pint at the neighbouring table. By their camaraderie, I assume they’ve had a long history together, probably meeting at this very pub over many years. As I finish my chicken salad, I notice their glasses are almost empty, and so I think it a polite time to tell the men what a pleasure it’s been to be sitting with them. It’s a wonderful thing to see that community still exists, I add, since so many people today are without one. There’s a brief silence as they soberly look at each other, then one quietly tells me I don’t have it quite right.
We’re retired dock workers, he explains, although none of us have worked together. In fact, he says, exchanging another sober look with his table mates, we’ve only recently met. All three of us are recent widowers, another continues, that’s why we’re here. We meet for drinks and company. I’m sorry, I say, worrying I’ve intruded. But I’m wrong again. There’s not a single pause in conversation as we cover everything from local history, to family, to grief and loss. And then, of course, all those general observations about the world. We’re still talking as the waiter clears our glasses, gently pressing us to make room for the people milling about waiting for a table. We say our glad-to’ve-met-you’s, shake hands, and make for the door.
While we walk, my husband and I go through our affectionate routine of checking each other over for crooked collars and forgotten items, when one of the trio abruptly stops in front of me. The tall, burly and bearded man looks down at me, his eyes brimming. And with a gaping expression, he implores me to understand. I’m going home to cook supper, he says. It’s so hard to eat alone.
*I take liberties with Charle’s Fritz’s conception of a “community of sufferers”; roughly, a positive phenomenon of disasters where people, often strangers and irrespective of differences, are drawn together by their common experience of the disaster, providing for each other support and social reorientation.
See also On aging.