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.