An open letter to ministers, yoga teachers, rabbis, spin instructors, pastors, adjunct professors, priests, zumba instructors, imams, motivational speakers, reverends and anyone addressing mothers and fathers in mid-May or mid-June.
Dear Person at the Front of the Room,
I know you worked really hard on that homily about Mother’s Day / Father’s Day. It’s a time of joy and appreciation and community for almost everyone in the room. Thank you for your special sentiments to soothe those in your audience who don’t have their mothers / fathers accessible to them. It’s a nice touch to bring in that compassion.
You may not know this, but there are likely other outliers receiving your message. That 30-something lady who pulled the tissues out of her purse and filled up three of them with tears and snot? That man who had to excuse himself awkwardly? That woman who tried to hide the fact that she was sobbing on her yoga mat?
These are people who desperately WANT to be a mother or father. To join the parenting club at long last. To have the cards and commercials and 30% off sales apply to them. To bring into their lives what others are able to effortlessly. These are the outliers in your audience. Let me tell you about some of them.
Could be a woman who found out this morning that her third IVF attempt didn’t work — no line on the pee stick. To make matters worse, she turns 35 next week and her medical chart will be marked AMA — advanced maternal age. Her prospects for success with future treatments looks unbearably bleak.
Could be a couple who has been waiting in an adoption pool for 28 months. Each period she has, each turn of the calendar page, marks another month their prayers have gone unanswered.
Could be a couple who finally thought they were to be admitted to the Mother’s Day / Father’s Day club, but whose hopes ended in a miscarriage.
Could be a couple whose planned surrogate is suddenly unavailable to them.
Could be a man who wore the title of Dad for a few months — until his baby died.
Could be a woman who experienced an unexpected pregnancy and took the course to place her baby in the arms of another mother.
Could be a couple who has exhausted their options and who has resigned themselves to live childfree. Not so much by choice as by circumstance.
I know you didn’t know. Why would you, unless you or a loved had experienced this type of loss? I suspect that if you knew you were also addressing outliers, you would include compassion for them in your message.
Would it be in bad taste to talk about death in bullet points? Should I cut to the heart of the matter? I’ve been a little choked up in my thoughts and emotions. Hang in there with my gallows humor. Colonel Mustard in the Dining Room with a Candlestick.
Now I’ll get serious. Deadly serious. These are some of the thoughts I thunk during the wake, funeral and burial of my mother-in-law.
Receiving lines can be excruciating for germophobes.
People acclimate amazingly quickly. My children Freaked Out when they approached the casket for a private moment before the wake began. Within five minutes they were back to normal. Grieving, still, but able to incorporate Grandma Marshmallow’s altered presence into the occasion.
Death grants a person something of a beatification. What were annoyances when a person was alive are viewed as quaint personality quirks after death. I feel guilty even admitting that I harbored any feelings of annoyance.
Kids keep me present. Children are so much better equipped than adults are to be in the moment. They are not yet as adept at being wistful about the past or worrying about the future. The are able to be. here. now. and they remind me to do so, as well.
Observing the dying process has been, in hindsight, like watching a trainwreck in slow motion. You know the ending and you just have to wait for it.
My memories of Lisa are split in two: before the cancer, when she’s vibrant and beautiful and active and seemingly eternal; and after the cancer, when the insidious malignancy has robbed her of her hair, many of her abilities, her life force. I have a hard time reconciling the two.
People want to DO something.
People who are mourning their own losses are comforted by comforting.
Even if you say, “In lieu of flowers…” people will send flowers. Lots of flowers.
Friends and family hold us up when grief becomes unbearable. We can always come back to it. Just a conversation or a touch tends to break up the grief.
Mercifully, grief tends to come in bite-sized morsels. I am amazed at how moments of normalcy took over whenever the grief became to much:
Despair— load the dishwasher —sadness— toilet paper roll needs replacing —grief— oooh, here’s a text message —sob— help Reed find his non-existent socks.
The burial is the most difficult part for me. I hate hate hate that returning to the earth.
There’s a yearning to get to a New Normal. We left town two days after the burial, and I dreaded leaving my father-in-law and sister-in-law to their newly quiet lives. But when the time came I sensed that my in-laws and my husband were curious about finding their New Normal. As it turned out, the leaving wasn’t so hard for we leavers or the leavees.
I view, “She’s in Heaven” and “She’s an angel now” as platitudes to calm and placate. My theory is more along these lines. But I must admit that in the dark days of the wake and funeral, my own beliefs seem platitudinous, too. It wasn’t until our flight home lifted into the air that I was able to start believing again in something eternal and connected and bigger than life in this dimension. Sort of. So who knows what the purpose and meaning of life is?
Where IS the soul when the body no longer houses it?
When a person is alive, she is available in your mind as a motion picture. When that person has died, she is accessible to you only as snapshots — the movie no longer plays, not even in re-runs.
I went 40+ years without having to experience the death of a parent/parent-in-law, and Lisa’s was the first death in our parent’s generation. I am fearful that now the bubble is popped, the other three will follow soon. And by “soon” I mean within the next 40 years.