Monday, April 7, 2008

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

One day following my father-in-law Bob's funeral, a colleague at work gently said to me, "I saw his photo in the paper; he was a pretty big guy, huh? Was it a heart attack?" This took me by surprise, in a way; Bob was fat?!? I guess the nickname, "Big Bob" had been lost on me. I had never thought about it, assuming (I guess) that it was in reference to his senior status (as his son is also named Bob).

Now that she had mentioned it, I realized he was a "big guy." At 6 feet tall, 240 lbs. Bob was always on a "diet." He had a huge, 10-month-pregnant, beer belly, (which was actually more likely related to Jack Daniels). Of course he died of a heart attack! Why had that shocked me so much, when he had actually been a walking advertisement for heart disease!?

I had been blind to it, but after he died, whenever I saw someone with Bob's body type, I had to resist an urge to rush up to them and cry, "Do you realize that you could die of a heart attack tomorrow? You could seriously DIE and leave your family heartbroken. Do you want to die?! Please take steps today to prevent this!!! Yes, you're welcome for saving your life; now go tell your other friends the same."

Six months after Bob's passing, I started a new job. It was August, and I had just met many of the teachers in my new school. Lynda, an art teacher about 10 years older than me, was one of them, so I sat at her table when I arrived at the in-service on the first day of school. We chatted for a while, and then quieted, as the principal introduced "Jim Browner, our guest speaker.

Jim was huge man, plainly speaking. He was maybe six feet tall and weighed at least 350 pounds. A beloved former-teacher and principal in our district, he had come to invite us to contribute to a local charity to which he was very devoted. I listened intently but could not ignore the fact that he, even moreso than Bob had been, was a heart attack waiting to happen. In between sentences, he breathed heavily and was clearly not in good shape. He finished his spiel and left.

Turning to Lynda, I said, "I lost my father-in-law to a heart attack this year. Every time I see a big man like that, it makes me think of my father-in-law, and it scares me; I worry about people like that." She replied, "Well, he lost like 20 pounds this summer. He's working on it." We went on with our day.

That night, lying in bed, something struck me. Lynda's last name was Brawner. The principal had clearly pronounced Jim's last name as Browner, but could it be...? O-M-G. Lynda was probably Jim's WIFE! I was mortified.

The next day, I went straight to Lynda's classroom to apologize. I told her I had suddenly made the connection from her to Jim, and I was very sorry if what I said had offended her in any way. She responded graciously, "Don't worry about it!" she assured me. "You didn't say anything wrong. He needs to lose weight, and he knows it."

Since that day, I still notice overweight, pregnant-bellied men, and I have a weird feeling, like I'm walking among the near-dead. I still worry about them; but now I keep my mouth shut.


  1. I think you were kind in your statement to her, though. It was not about insulting him for his weight-- it was about genuine concern.

  2. I know exactly how you feel. I am so worried about my brother but I just can't get through to him right now. I just know that I will be around to help when he is ready. He's making some small diet changes based on recipes I've made so that is a start.

  3. I agree with Princess Pointful - you weren't making a comment about his weight for any other reason than concern for his health, and apparently it was something they were already working on.

  4. I'm so glad to know that someone other than myself can open mouth and insert foot!

    My own husband is 6'5 and 300 pounds (his baby is at least 2-3 months overdue!). He has had 2 heart attacks (he's 44) and refuses to change his life style. He over-eats, he smokes, and his recliner and TV are his best friends.

    After years of myself and the kids begging him to take better care of himself, nothing has changed. Some people just don't want to make the effort I suppose.


  5. Oh man, I would have felt mortified too. But I agree with the other comments in that you showed genuine concern for his well-being.


Your 2 cents...