Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Life is Weird: When Worlds Collide


Sunday, Tim took Margaret down to college to get set up in a new apartment. In another life, I would have gone too, helping her organize her closet, treating her to lunch, maybe taking Charlie for a walk around a local winery. You know, grown-up, empty-nest stuff. 

Instead, I was on Andrew-duty. I'd hoped for a sweet mother-son day since he's been really busy with outdoor camp this summer. While he still loves me, he hasn't been trying to climb back into my uterus like last year.  Instead, he has become friend-obsessed. To his great disappointment, all the neighbors were either on outings, at the pool, or out of town. I remember this developmental stage with Jack, when he would peer out our kitchen window to see if his buddy across the driveway was awake. He'd run out the door in his pj's to greet him, often forgetting to put on shoes. Margaret was more content to stay home, or participate in whatever fun Jack drummed up.

So as Andrew and I rode scooters up and down the street, looking for someone to play with, I thought about how weird life is. A tired, sweaty 51 year old on her dead son's Razor scooter, trying to keep up with her 5 year old on his new, entirely too-fast one. Hours later he would smash his head on a driveway, at the exact spot his helmet did not protect, but that is a story and a worry for another day.

I remembered how Jack considered it a good day when his special friend was available, and a bad day if  he wasn't. I remembered how the worst day of all of our lives was a day that same little boy was available  when he normally wouldn't have been. And how playing outside that late afternoon changed everything. 

I realized how if it weren't for that moment, we wouldn't be experiencing this one.

I could feel September creeping into my bones. The dread and weepiness, largely kept at bay, but arriving early this year. Maybe because of menopause or the fact that Andrew is about to start Kindergarten. Maybe it's due to a year and 1/2 of worry, weariness, grief and disruption because of Covid. Yet most likely it's because the 10 year mark looms. 

I hesitate to write about that creeping feeling, because I don't want dear ones who are early on their paths of grief to recoil and feel they are doomed to despair so far down a road that seems almost inconceivable to them. For now they must operate in the day by day, and the hour by hour. Secondary losses will pile up in their own time, and no one needs my gloomy rumination to take them further into the pit than they already are. My passion and privilege these past 10 years has been showing that healing, peace, and even (real, unforced!) joy are possible after great loss. I'm a regular, flawed person who keeps showing up for life-- not the one I thought I'd have, but the one I do have. And I am utterly convinced that Jack is happy and he is right here with me. 

Most days I am even grateful to be parenting a little one, but it's something I have to dig deep for. It's no joke to parent again right when your nurturing and caregiving hormones have exited the building, and when your friends are "finding themselves"-- in new careers, relationships, or exotic locales. It's harder than I thought, and I thought it would be pretty hard.

Anyway, because I'm a woman and can keep 1,000 tabs open in my brain at once, all of these thoughts were on my mind as I walked, scootered, and watched for cars. A young man left my neighbor's house and climbed into his car. I had Andrew pull to the side so the car could pull out. The young man flashed a mega-watt smile as I waved him past, and all of my weird worlds collided at once. 

He wasn't just anyone; he was the special friend, the one whose days with Jack were his very best days, until the one that was everyone's worst. I don't know what the chances were for this encounter after so many years, in a different neighborhood, right at the moment I was pondering the intensity of young friendships, the potential (no, the certainty) of pain, and wondering if I'd have the strength to navigate it all again. I wondered what the young man was thinking, especially when he saw Jack's mini-me. What did he remember from those hot days so long ago? What did he make of me, a decade older, once a daily presence in his life, but then suddenly no more, because I needed to deal with my own family's trauma and let others tend to his?

I felt the sting of tears in my eyes, but kept on. We didn't find anyone to play with, so we ended up going to mini-golf, the ice cream shop, and the dollar store. Our very long day was a mix of highs and lows-- loneliness, hurt feelings, a tantrum, a scooter crash, deliciously sticky fingers, and a hole in one. 

I think in the coming weeks I will try to emulate early-grievers and re-learn to take things hour by hour and day by day. 


IMPORTANT: If you subscribe to this blog by email, that feature is being disabled by the blog company in a few days. I do have your emails and will try to send posts to you that way, but it will no longer be automatic, and I am technologically impaired, so I can't promise I'll figure it out. I'm usually over on facebook at An Inch of Gray and Instagram @annawhistondonaldson and would love keep in touch that way too. XOXO


Linda said...

After my oldest grandson died in a fentynal poisoning, I came across this Inuit proverb. You may have also read it. It gave me great comfort and I now have it on a stamp that I use to make sympathy cards. When you wrote of Jack being happy, it reminded me of the saying. While it hurts so much to not have them here with us, it's good to know they're happy. “Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.”

I applaud your wisdom to go back to taking life hour by hour and day by day until you're strong enough to take larger chunks. Keep on making the choices that work for you.

Theresa said...

I am sure some days even hour by hour is too much. Lifting you up.

Gretchen said...

Love you Anna.

Ann Imig said...

This is achingly beautiful, and as always will help so many others. So much love to you, Anna. You're a miracle, too.

Anonymous said...

Oh Anna, I am so sorry. I have a five year old as well and life is exhausting, especially in this heat!

I have been following you ever since, "Help Margaret Meet Justin Bieber" showed up in my facebook feed. The one thing I have always wondered about is how Jack ended up in the water...what did the boys he was with say? What do they think now? I can't imagine it doesn't impact them daily, though certainly not in the same way it impacts those who love Jack the most. I am constantly telling my ten year old son about creeks when it rains and the dangers...I am certain Jack has saved lives.

There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that Jack sent you Andrew. In fact, when people ask why I am a believer and why I just know that our loved ones are still with us even once they are no longer physically on Earth, I always think of your Jack. Sending hugs to you.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Oh, Anna... Your words are so poignant and true and -- yes -- filled with pain and hope. Thank you for being honest with us. Thank you for trusting us with your grief.

Suburban Correspondent said...

I do think that was a sign from Jack, your seeing that young man. I mean, how strange of a coincidence is that, to see him in your new neighborhood, just as you were ruminating on the upcoming 10-year anniversary? I feel as though he is telling you that he is okay and that you will be okay and things right now are just as they should be, much as you might wish they were different.

Life is so strange, though, isn't it? It's beyond us to figure it all out.

Anonymous said...

Anna, I got goosebumps when I read this. Life is so mysterious sometimes.

Michelle Layer Rahal said...

Thank you for writing about this precious day. It not only allows us to experience a glimpse of God's plan coming full circle, but it also lets us grieve and love with you.

Linda Baker said...

You're entitled to your feelings; whatever they are and whenever they come. Thanks for sharing.

Malka Neustadter said...

Sending love

Jill said...

Wow, that was beautiful. I'm so sorry about it all, and grateful along with you for the subsequent children who followed deep despair.

twingles said...

OMgosh what are the chances. There has to be a god-wink there somewhere ... maybe it will come to you one day. For now, you're entitled to feel what you feel right now (not that you need us to tell you that). Now is the time to worry after yourself, not others.

Dawn said...

I think it's important to be honest with yourself and your readers. Even those just new to this trail of grief wonder what it will be like in ten years. I remember thinking there's no way I could survive that long feeling like I did at the beginning. Yet, I along, with you and many others, have survived, even though sometimes (maybe a lot of times) we still feel that intense loss, and always will. But we also find those moments of laughter and joy and gratitude. Everyone needs to know there is hope. Thank you.