Over the past six months, three of our good friends lost a parent; two passed away in the last few weeks after long illnesses. And upon hearing the news of their premature deaths, my heart split in two: one half wept for my friends, and at the hole left in their lives. The other half grew fiercely protective of my own parents. The thought of losing them makes me short of breath.
How do you adjust to a world where a seemingly innocuous device like the telephone is a constant reminder that you won’t hear your mother’s voice again? Where a simple margarine commercial can send you into a tailspin because you remember that your dad won’t be eating toast and reading the paper the next morning? I guess you absorb the new reality somehow, and then you’re a different person. Like you’ve lost the ability to see certain shades of color, maybe.
But I see in my friends’ eyes that they’ve gained something intangible as well. They’ve been to the dark place we use Nanny 911 and Doritos and Tom Cruise jokes and a six-pack of Newcastle to avoid thinking about. (Or is that just me?) They’ve been there and returned to remind me not to whine when J requests a back scratch, to drive the extra few miles to visit my grandmother when I’m in her city for a meeting, to stop and chat with my widowed neighbor even when smiling feels like a chore, to plan and actually take vacations, and to just be kind and grateful, because I’ve got a fucking barge full of things to be grateful for.
Sometimes my Dad tells the story about the time my younger brother Jake, then age four, shuffled into the kitchen in his footie PJs late one night and surprised him while he was writing in his journal.
“What’s up, buddy?” Dad asked.
“I feel like I’m sad.”
“Why are you sad?”
Jake paused for a moment before replying, “Because someday you’re going to die.”
When Dad tells this story now he always ends with his response to Jake: “And I told him, ‘But not for a long, long time. Not until you’re all grown up, with children of your own.’” Which appeased my sensitive baby brother for the time being (probably because his mind had been blown by the image of himself as a mustachioed parent one day).
Because of my recently heightened awareness of mortality, “a long, long time” has come to seem incredibly fleeting to me lately.
So I’ve been listening to a lot of Sufjan Stevens and sighing wistfully while staring at my husband. I’m just centimeters away from weeping over old photos after slugging a bottle of shiraz, which is a sure sign that it’s time for me to listen to Bob and Tom instead of public radio for a few days while I do my morning routine. Anyway, I don’t want this blog entry to be all “death, nostalgia, and grief” (it helps if you imagine Steve Martin singing those three words to an upbeat banjo tune).
I guess I want to end this with a story about my mom. When I was in junior high, she’d drop me and my friend Pam off at the mall every Friday night to fart around and gawk at boys while my mother purchased the ingredients carefully listed in her little notebook for a whole week’s worth of dinners: taco fixings for Monday, spaghetti sauce for Tuesday, hamburgers on Wednesday, sweet & sour pork (my dad’s favorite) on Thursday, and pizza on Friday. Afterwards, she’d pick us up promptly at 8:30 in front of Forest Mall so we could race home in time to catch Miami Vice at 9.
I already mentioned that Pam and I were in junior high, so we were obligated to wave from the back seat of the mini-van at every carload of remotely cute boys we passed on the way home. Once my mom thought it would be funny to wave at the boys, too … and they ended up following us home. Every few miles we’d turn around and nervously ask, “Are they still there?” Then we’d shriek upon the confirmation that yes, they were. They followed us ten miles out of town, all the way to Pam’s house, where the three of us raced indoors and hid until they drove away.
It’s just a small story, but it reveals a bit about my mother’s playful side. Which is one of the many things I’m grateful for.