Earlier, she told me, “It’s been a hard year.”
She says this quietly and with a sigh. There was no need to explain, but she did any way.
“There’s Elaine and Marsha and Herbie and Florence. And it hasn’t even been a year since Aunt L.” The list was of friends and family my mother has lost in the past year. It includes best friends and coworkers and date night couples and sisters. People she has known for decades.
The losses are painful made more so by the rapidity with which they have come. Yet, when you are in the age group that my mother occupies, loss is a regular though unwanted guest. It never shows up at the right time.
I wish I had something comforting to say. I wish I could find something wise and soothing to ease her pain. Instead I sigh, and simply say, “I understand.” But mostly I’m quiet – hopeful that she will feel willing to share as much as she is ready to share.
As the wedding proceeds, she is glad to be part of the event – it’s her great niece. Yet as the guests are invited to enter the hall, she goes through a list of who “should be here.” Being happy is a challenge today. Later on at the table, we sit enjoying our appetizers, I share some good news with my mother. She smiles momentarily, “Thank you. I need some good news.”
I also add, “I miss them too, mom.”
And I do. These people dotted my childhood and show up in memories that stretch back to my boyhood. They were at surprise parties and bar mitzvahs and graduations and weddings. I hear their voices in my childhood home asking to speak to my mother. I see them sitting and drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes talking about a time I never know. I watch them laughing about moments only they can understand.
And I learned from them. My mother and her cast of family and friends taught me. Sometimes the lessons were overt. But the more powerful lessons – the lessons where I learned about decency and sharing and kindness – were learned by watching. How do you share in people’s lives? How do you find time for someone when life is busy? How do you appreciate the other’s joyous moments?
But it’s not about me. I’m no longer the child. It’s time for me to provide support. As my mother’s circle changes, I’ll apply those lessons I’ve learned from her. I hope I’ve learned them well.
I’ll listen. I’ll share. I’ll grieve. I’ll be a shoulder to cry on.