|Me in the middle 1966|
I know that no one else can know exactly how you feel, but there are certain life events, that when we are going through them, another person can offer comfort just by telling you that they understand, they have been where you are.
I was on an airplane with my boys yesterday, on our way home from Florida. Normally, when Kurt is with us, I read and relax, but since it was just the three of us, I was on high alert, trying to keep them busy and happy since we were on the last leg of a long travel day. A woman boarded right after us and Jemberu immediately struck up a conversation with her. He used the same opening line that he always uses for African-Americans, "Hey! You've got skin like mine!" She laughed and agreed with him and took her seat across the aisle from us. She was probably in her late 30's and I couldn't help but watch her during our flight. She was so engaging, She made pleasant conversation with the passengers around her. I overheard her telling her seat mate about looking for a house, accompanied by her mother. She laughed when sharing about her mom telling the realtor that she would never allow her daughter to live in the dump he was showing them. Because of her gift of conversation, I learned that the woman in front of me was a school teacher, sad that vacation was at an end. She turned to me and complimented my sons on their excellent behavior and asked them about their vacation. When the flight ended, I heard her on her phone, saying she had landed. I was busy getting the boys backpacks on them, making sure we had all our stuff when I looked at her and saw her swipe a tear away. I looked more closely and saw the tears keep coming, silently, as she wiped them away with her bare hand.
I asked her if she was okay, even though I it was obvious that she wasn't. She told me her mother had just died, she found out just then, when she called to report she had landed. I told her how sorry I was, that I had lost my mother too and not knowing what else to do, I rubbed her back. The school teacher told her that she had just lost her dad and that she really felt for her. She began to rub her back too. She continued to cry softly, we continued to offer the only comfort we had for her, a few words of understanding and our touch.
I had been thinking a lot about how heartbreaking the loss of a mother is. My friend Jane, just lost her mom, I know telling her that I have have been there, isn't much, but I hope it helps a little. Three years ago, when my friend Laura lost her mom suddenly, my heart broke for her, I couldn't even imagine what that loss would feel like. Three short months later, when I lost my own mother unexpectedly, Laura was the one I turned to most. We became members of a club that we didn't want to join. We had always been close but this bonded us even more deeply, as we compared notes on coping without our moms and tried to help each other through it.
When my mom died, I soaked up all of the comfort that others offered, cards, notes, kind words, they all meant so much. One exception stands out to me. A neighbor I barely knew was outside and waved me down as I drove past her house. I stopped, we exchanged pleasantries and then I saw her eyes go to my passenger seat, where a marble urn , containing my mother's ashes sat. I explained to her that my mom has just died and I was on my way to meet my siblings at our father's grave to bury her ashes with him. Her eyes filled with tears, she touched my arm and said, "I know exactly how you feel, my cat just died," It may have been my mouth hanging open in disbelief that caused her to explain, "I had her since college! She has known me longer than my husband, she's gone through so much with me." She paused and I realized she was waiting for me to offer my condolences. The only thing I could think to say was, 'Did your cat raise you?', so I kept my mouth shut and told her I had to run. As I drove off, I reviewed the strange conversation and started to laugh. I actually looked forward to telling my brother and sister the story of my nutty neighbor and her dead cat.
So, I think about Jane and the woman on the plane and I hope that the weeks and months ahead will bring much to comfort them. I also hope that if anyone offers them misguided attempts at comfort that they will accept the gift of laughter when it is least expected.