Friday, June 28, 2019

Life is Weird

On Friday nights our town has live music and food on the town green. Last Friday Tim and I took Andrew.

We sat on a blanket next to a couple from our neighborhood with young kids Andrew's age. It was great to know we'd reached the stage where we could take him somewhere a little past bedtime, and we could hang out with adults.

As I looked around, I was struck by how many people I knew. Friends from Andrew's preschool across town. Jen from "Moms' Group" when Jack and Margaret were born, who later worked in Tim's office when we dipped our toes back into the working world. Ann, whom I met at "the park" in between kid 1 and kid 2, when we both wore oversized t-shirts, jean shorts, and weary looks. Parents from Margaret's field hockey team. People from both of the churches we attend.

I spotted a group of adults in camp chairs, and realized it was the parents of Jack's baseball teammates. Some had recent high school graduates, so we talked about the craziness of beach week and how glad we were that the kids all made it home safely. Turning to a baseball dad, I blurted out what popped into my head, "My life is so weird!" I gestured to where Tim and Andrew were waiting to get ice cream. 

They smiled and nodded. They may not know me well, but they do know that my life is weird. One kid in heaven, one heading to college, one in the line for ice cream with his daddy.

Jen's kids are both out of the house now, even though I still remember her son Chris as an infant, dwarfing Jack, who was older. She has gone back to work full-time in her field. Ann's son, Jack's friend from preschool, is studying in North Carolina. I was on that same timetable, until I wasn't.

It reminded me of a blog post, "Why B Normal?" written soon after Jack's accident, about how as a child I'd always imagined my life would be just a little bit different, even though I'm the most steady, predictable person I know. 

And it's true. My life is different. It often feels weird.

Yet thinking about it later, I realized that almost every one of the people on the town green likely had been thrown curveballs: death, divorce, infertility, mental and physical illness, job struggles, discrimination, interpersonal challenges, disappointment, crises of faith, and more. 

Shortly before she died, leaving me motherless at 18, my mom jotted a phrase on a piece of scrap paper and taped it to the fridge. It read, "Life is a very strange time."

I had no idea what it meant, but it didn't take me very long to figure it out.

Life has, indeed, been a very strange time.


We had to duck out of the concert earlier than the empty nesters happily holding their wineglasses, because bedtime awaited; until then, I soaked in the crisp air of a near-perfect June evening. Glad to be out of the house. Grateful to see so many familiar faces and to have friends from the different stages of my life. Open to those I would meet in the next stages as well.

Life is weird, sometimes hard, and often good.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Help Them Help You

May 31st was the anniversary of my mom's death.

She died when she was 46 and I was 18.

Mid-morning on the 31st, I texted Tim and Margaret reminding them that this was the day my mom died. They sent back short texts of sympathy, and I appreciated it. I also wrote on the family wall calendar "Mom 31 years." These two actions gave Tim and Margaret the greatest chance of reaching out and acknowledging my mom's death. Instead of waiting for them to show up for me (OR NOT) as I've done many years in the past, I chose to help them help me.

That's often how it is with grief. The griever is the one who much educate others how best to help. Give me space. Don't give me space. Say his name. Be silent. Talk. Listen. Go on a walk with me. Celebrate a holiday with me. Ignore this stupid holiday with me. My mom died and I want you to mention it.

Is this fair to ask of an already depleted person?

Absolutely not. But if you are grieving, you've likely learned that not much is fair anyway. However, the alternative is for even more pain to be piled on top of pain as we feel unacknowledged, forgotten, or misunderstood.

Shortly after Jack died, my friend Mary seemed absent. I am not saying she wasn't there at our house or for the funeral, but it felt like she was silently disappearing. I knew she loved Jack, and I knew she loved me. I spent an enormous amount of time and energy wondering what Mary was thinking and why she wasn't reaching out. I worried that her own grief for Jack was overwhelming.

Over text we decided to go out to lunch. After talk of mundane topics such as church news and how her son was doing in Algebra died down, I told her I missed her and broached  how she seemed unwilling or unable to grieve Jack with me. To talk about it. To acknowledge the shock. To voice how f*ing unbelievable and devastating it was that Jack had died. Really died.

 It was awkward.

We both cried. She explained that she'd been giving me the space and privacy she thought she'd want if one of her children died. My snarky side wanted to say that I'd been documenting my grief for thousands of people and she surely could have found clues on my blog, but I didn't.

For a lesser friend, I would not have brought up my disappointment and needs at all, but I cared enough about Mary to want to help her help me. Then, she could decide what to do with the information.

That's why I texted Tim and Margaret about my mom last week. Life is disappointing enough. People are disappointing. I know because I disappoint people regularly and fall short all. of. the. darn. time.

Honestly stating our needs can feel risky and vulnerable, but it gives someone a greater chance to be there for us in the ways we need. My friendship with Mary was never the same, but I am glad I said what I did.

If there is a specific way a friend or family member could better support you, consider showing them how, even if you might be angry pissed annoyed that you even have to.

Posting on Facebook on Jack's birthday, the anniversary of his death, or other important dates, and giving people the opportunity to comment, is a huge comfort to me, and it doesn't require anyone else to remember the dates. This is one of the ways I help others help me.

Maybe you can remind your friends that Mother's or Father's Day is tough, or that this was the month your baby was due.

Help someone help you.