We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming
I was supposed to talk about how, today, I planted some of my late husband’s ashes with a new elm tree. But it’s not my day. A young mom in my church community was killed in a pedestrian-car accident. The younger of her two sons had his first playdate with my daughter, who’s a little older, two years ago. He’s a ball of joy and talked about going to "Shortie's house" for weeks. Her husband gave me some important dating advice. They both did. We weren’t close friends, heck we tangled sometimes, but we were part of the same church family.
Holy crap. She organized the childcare for my late husband’s memorial service, which took place at church. That makes it hit home. I will never forget the warm honest hug she gave me a few weeks later when things slowed down. Almost four years ago.
No matter how many times I hear about a loss, now matter how much I tell others “what to say, what to do,” or how much I really do help widowed people and their friends and families, it doesn’t get any easier for me.
I think of all the other accident widows and widowers I know. Two people in my local support group lost spouses as pedestrians. If I take a step back, I can wonder at the shock when we all know that driving is the most dangerous thing we all do. But then, I am still transfixed and befuddled at how I faced my dying husband every day for two years without really seeing him. Some information just can’t soak in, it just isn’t right for it to be understood, we say we want it to make sense but it can’t. And I can’t take a step back from this one, yet.
The friend who told me, as I started to cry on the phone, mentioned briefly not wanting to tell her daughter what was wrong, why she had been crying reading her email. “Something really bad happened… uh…. with a meeting Mommy went to,” she joked.
No way, I would be honest and age-appropriate. My daughter is learning a little at a time and she’ll empathize, in some way, with a kid losing a parent. Crying, I went in to the bathroom. My girl was in the tub, doing some kind of mermaid rocking. A rivulet ran nearly to the doorway. Crying, grabbing at towels and throwing them on the floor, I told her the sad news.
It didn’t go the way one might expect. I should have known, we’d just talked about it the other day. I didn’t involve her in the ashes thing yesterday, I treated it very casually, because she’s been indifferent to death lately, uninterested in talking too much about it. Maybe it’s the same protective mechanism that we adults use every time we get in the car or smoke a cigarette.
My crying sounded, to her, like laughter. In trying to cry in front of her, an activity I used to avoid, I sounded like I was laughing. Same blubbering, wiping of eyes, only with my head down instead of back, I suppose.
No, no, I am crying, it only sounds like laughing.
But… I never seen you cry, Mommy.
Yes you have. You used to tell me to stop when you were little. It was very upsetting to you, so I used to hide my crying from you, but it’s healthy to cry and you’re old enough to see it now.
Oh yeah. Now I remembering. You are crying.
A minute later we were both laughing. The emotional extremes are so close together. She turned her back and started drawing on the back wall of the tub with a green soap crayon.
Why did she die? My daughter asks, from the tub. Do they have pictures? Did her body break in two pieces?
Honey, we don’t talk about things like that.
But what happened to her body?
The police might take pictures but they will only show them if there is a way to prevent someone else from having the same accident. We don’t look at that kind of pictures.
But I WANT TO SEE THE PICTURES!!!!!
(I know, it’s normal. She’s learning how the body works.)
Nobody can ever look at those pictures, I’m sorry if you want to, but we can’t do that.
(What happened to open, honest, age-appropriate?)
Death is always going to be a morbid business, even if we're open about it, even if it's part of the cycle of life. Not that I care about any of that today.
As she put on her pajamas, on her own, like a big girl without me, I cried for being a widow, for enjoying reaching out to people in pain, for being able to deal with it most of the time. But not now. All I could imagine was the two little boys and the man, bereaved, numb, receiving casserole upon casserole upon bouquet. And imagining them in the heat of summer, their feelings starting to come back. A bereaved Dad facing the questions from his little one, the same questions I've heard from mine.
There's no way around it. It just plain sucks a giant rotten egg every single time.
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