Hello, Grief

When you have Grief in your life, you quickly become an expert at juggling your emotions. You learn how to maintain your composure and get through each day, even though you know something too big for words is missing.

And sometimes, before you even see it coming, Grief shows up and changes everything.

I was in the airport quite a few weeks ago, waiting for my boss, Pete, to arrive. I got to the airport a little early, since airport-people-watching is one of my favorite activities. In true Pete style, his flight was delayed. I bought a magazine, settled into one of the chairs with the best people-watching views, and took stock of my options for the morning.

There was a couple in their mid-fifties, hugging and smiling as they headed towards baggage claim together. Then there was another couple, also mid-fifties, tearfully saying goodbye to their college-aged daughter (who looked mildly embarrassed, in true college-age-style.) There were a few women and men pacing near the terminal entrance, patiently and impatiently waiting on whoever was on their way to meet them.

And about 10 feet away, were two of the cutest little girls I could have possibly imagined.

The girls both had these really fun, multi-color crocheted hats on, with antennae-like nubs coming out of the tops. My grandmother used to crochet, and my brother and I had been the beneficiaries of many an odd and funky hat, vest, and stuffed elephant toy. The girls were around 6 or 7 years old, and were each wearing delightfully colorful skirts with delightfully different colored patterned tights and amazingly brightly colored Velcro sneakers. Ok, the tights actually clashed with the skirts, which clashed with the sneakers, which clashed with the hats. Either their parents were artists, or the girls had been allowed to dress themselves. Regardless, it made me smile more than I can explain.

They giggled loudly, and took turns spinning, and stumbling, and spinning some more, completely unaware that the airport terminal was not their private ballet studio. Did I mention how much fun it was to watch them?

I finally got a text from Pete saying that his plane had landed, and I started to put my unread magazine away. I looked up when I heard the little girls squealing, and watched as they ran towards the line of people spilling into the terminal. The girls were happily gathered in by a smiling woman with a quilted purse. She hugged them to her knees as she kissed their foreheads, and thought how glad they both must have been to have Mommy back home.

But then I looked back to where they had been twirling, and saw a younger version of the woman with the quilted purse. She was also smiling, also walked over to hug and kiss the woman. I realized just then that Mom had been with the girls the whole time, and it was Grandma who had just gotten there.

And then, with absolutely no warning, I started to cry. Huge, fat tears just started rolling down my face. Reality and realization always hit me like a ton of bricks. My husband and I don’t have kids yet, but we will, someday. And when that someday comes, no matter when it is, we will never have this unique moment of dancing and hugs and joy in the airport. My mom loved children,  and always gently (and somewhat dreamily) asked me when I might be ready to start a family of my own.  But she just didn’t live long enough to act out this particular scene with me, to be greeted enthusiastically in the airport by my squealing, loving, funky-hat-wearing kids.

It haunts me when I think of the fact that my kids will never know my mom. I cannot imagine that they won’t get to read books on her lap, or go to the park with her, or glue curly macaroni to rumpled construction paper on her kitchen table. My dad is amazing, and will be a fantastic source of love in the lives of my children but there’s just going to be something missing. Something so huge that I can’t fathom it most days.

The truth is that there are some things, no matter how much we heal, grow, and accept, that are just not fair. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mom’s love, which she had freely showered on my brother and me, would have truly shined in the lives of my kids.  She spent most of her life raising me and Aaron, put in her time as teacher, coach, disciplinarian, taxi-driver, skinned knee healer, 2 a.m. tummy-ache-calmer, and all of the other jobs that Moms selflessly do for their kids. She earned the right to be cookie-provider, toy-purchaser, cheek-pincher, and pillow fight instigator for my children. It’s the great reward for all of the hard years of parenting. It evens out the cosmic score. But in this round, my mom got cheated.

There, in that airport lobby, I felt it all so strongly, Grief snuck up on me so quickly, that I couldn’t bear it.

After a minute, I realized that I couldn’t just sit there, that there would be no good way to explain to Pete why I was crying about my children that didn’t even exist yet. I wiped my cheeks, got myself together, and put my best “I’m ok” smile on. Pete strolled out a moment later, and I asked him how his trip had been. I put the dilemma aside, and talked about phone calls and meetings and other “important work stuff.” Almost as quickly as Grief snuck up on me, I ditched it in that airport terminal, and walked away.

It’s been three years since Mom’s death, and my life now is good and full. I am happy more days than not, and I continue to marvel at the good friendships, events, and opportunities that I get to be a part of. But still…with every new day comes a new thing to mourn, a new realization of all the moments that I will miss with my mom. All the moments she will miss with me. In that airport, those little girls in funny hats, and that smiling Grandma with the quilted purse, were just more than my heart could bear.

Some days, Grief just appears suddenly, and I forget to pretend like everything’s ok.

Photo Credit.

14 Comments:

  1. Alan Silberberg said on April 26, 2010 at 12:08 pm ... #

    Thank you, Alisha. I too have had the “airport” moment of sudden grief. For me it was watching the college boy greet his waiting mother with open arms…bringing up for me the fact that I never had the mother to wait for my flight to arrive. Grief is sneaky shadow that is always lingering as a reminder somehow of what we’ve had to lose.

  2. Anonymous said on April 26, 2010 at 5:37 pm ... #

    touching

  3. Andrew Dooley said on April 27, 2010 at 9:29 am ... #

    Alisha,
    Every time I read something you write on here I feel closer to you. This one was particularly close to my heart. My Mom looked forward with great passion to the day she would become a grandmother. Although I don’t yet have kids of my own either, I know that when I do I will feel that loss very keenly from time to time. My Mom understood very much that grandparents are able to act outside the lines of parenting and spoil their grandkids rotten; she always obliged this with my grandparents and was looking forward to the same. Thanks for your article.

  4. Brandon said on April 27, 2010 at 10:58 am ... #

    Alisha,
    Another wonderfully written piece and very touching. Thanks for writing and sharing this story with everyone!

  5. Bill said on April 27, 2010 at 4:56 pm ... #

    Yes, know where you’re coming from. I sometimes still wish our youngest son (28 now) had known my dad who loved sport as he does and who would have taken him fishing and taught him mechanics and woodwork.

  6. Rachel said on April 29, 2010 at 4:08 pm ... #

    Alisha,

    Beautiful and touching story – just makes us even more blessed for those people that we do still have in our lives and the ones who are looking down on us from above.

  7. Cheri said on April 30, 2010 at 12:30 pm ... #

    It’s comforting to know I am not the only one having those moments. Mine have been atthe grocery store picking up a bag of hershey kisses, my mom called them “silver tops” and my father-in-law called them “silver bells”. So it was a double whammy. I imagine my mom or dad looking down on me and laughing at me that I’m being soo sentimental.

  8. hbk09 said on May 30, 2010 at 9:01 am ... #

    I had similar feelings at church a few weeks ago when an acquaintance’s grandchild was being baptized and I knew that I would never have Rachel’s children to watch…We were all so looking forward to her marriage and subsequent pregnancies!

  9. Kristen said on June 16, 2010 at 9:05 pm ... #

    Alisha,

    This REALLY hit home for me. My Dad just passed away suddenly last month in a tragic hiking accident and the one thing that I just CANNOT accept is the fact that he never got a chance to be a Grandpa… He SO DESPERATELY wanted grandkids and my husband and I have been TRYING for that for a while. We did conceive back in January, and I at least got to experience telling him he was going to be a grandpa, but unfortunately I had to tell him a week later that I lost the baby and he was DEVASTATED. I know that my Dad will always be a part of my (someday) kids’ lives, but I can’t stand the fact that they will never have known him…

  10. Bridget said on June 21, 2010 at 9:55 am ... #

    On Father’s Day this year, I had that moment. One minute visiting with friends on a campsite, and the next slowly walking away to conceal the churning in gut giving way to a twisted, crying face. Why can’t my dad be the 83 year old grandpa watching the grandkids from the lounge chair? Why did he have to leave at 57? We could have had 26 more years…at least.

  11. Alisha said on August 9, 2010 at 12:31 pm ... #

    If you would like to comment privately on this or any of my articles, you can reach me at alisha@comfortzonecamp.org

  12. lisa said on January 23, 2012 at 10:29 am ... #

    Yes…..hard moments come and go. I lost my dad last summer. On vacation with my boys…..when heard lil children saying papa…from the water. It was more than I could bear. The tears just came. They are 8, 7 and 4 years old…they will remember their papa but we all still needed him here with us.

  13. Rebecca said on January 23, 2012 at 10:33 am ... #

    You’ve done it again, Alisha! You find just the right words to describe grief so perfectly. I feel the same things when I think of having children in the near future. Next week will be the 2nd anniversary of my moms passing. Tomorrow is my 28th birthday. My mom was admitted to the hospital on my 26th birthday and passed away 6 days later, losing her 5 year battle with cancer at the the young age of 50. So much comes to the surface for me this time of year, this site and especially your articles are so extremely helpful. Thank you for sharing. I hope you know how much of a difference you make in this world of grief.

  14. Brittainy said on March 14, 2012 at 10:04 pm ... #

    I’ve had moments like this. The strangest things trigger them and reality comes crashing down on me. She’ll never see me graduate highschool. She won’t be hugging me goodbye at the airport when I’m college-age. She wont be there to see me married. None of it.

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