A few mornings ago, Sam and I were hanging out in one of our favorite coffee shops when we ran into a family friend, the grandmother of several of Sam and Caroline's classmates. She's a sweet lady who lives in the senior housing across the street from us and she helps take care of her grandkids while their mom, a good friend of mine, is at work. We waved to her as she entered and we chatted a bit, more than we usually get to at preschool pickup and drop-off.
During the conversation, she offhandedly asked if my parents were in the area. I told her without really thinking about it that my dad lives in Portland, and that my mom died about two and a half years ago. She gasped and put her hand to her chest and expressed her condolences, and apologized for bringing it up. I found myself comforting her as I thanked her for her sympathies, and assured her that it was ok for me to talk about it, that we talk about Grammy a lot in our house.
Before this encounter, I found myself this last week reading a few of my older posts about my grief right after my mom died, and in the year afterward. The rawness of my emotions is so apparent. My grief was worn on my sleeve and woven like a thread through everything I did, saw, and thought. Each stitch drew blood.
That's changed. The fabric has mostly been sewn, and I live with it now. It's not that I don't miss her or don't think about her. In fact, just a few weeks ago I observed grandparents at story time playing with their obviously beloved granddaughter, and I suddenly had to turn away as unexpected tears stung my eyes. But mostly it's not so immediate and ever-present anymore. It's just a part of my life. In fact, I was rather surprised listening to myself talk to my friend at the coffee shop by my dispassionate accounting of the facts, especially in contrast to her shocked and visceral reaction.
And with that observation came an uncomfortable realization, one that I've had many times over the last two years. My mom didn't really seem present to me, and she hadn't for a long time. One always hears stories about how dead loved ones are somehow "with" the people they left behind. They visit in dreams, or they intervene in some obvious way. And I felt a little angry and cheated that I hadn't had that. She just seemed....not there.
The conversation with my friend continued, and it turned out that she herself had lost her own mother when she was 28, and that day was the anniversary of her death. Even all these years later, the loss obviously still stung. Then, she gave me her phone number and told me she was just across the street, and if I ever needed emergency help with the kids to call her.
And suddenly, I realized how often this sort of thing had been happening.
Earlier this week, I got to talking with the lady who does story time at the same place I observed the grandparents and their granddaughter. She's also older, and she's taken a special interest in Sam over the years we've known her, and especially in the last few months. In talking with her this week we realized that she went to my college many years ago, and we had a much deeper conversation than usual, reliving old memories of the place we both loved. And then, she told me that I ought to bring Sam by her house this summer so she can work on reading with him.
And for the last few months, there has been an older couple who without fail have brought with them to Mass a matchbox car every week from their extensive collection left over from their own kids and given it to Sam with a hug and a chat. When I thank them, they just smile and grasp my hand.
The more I think about it, the more the list of people who have just fallen into my path and want to be involved with my kids and my family grows.
And suddenly I knew. I saw.
Asserting herself wasn't really Mom's style. She almost never talked about herself, instead preferring to listen to other people. If my mom were intervening, it would have been so unlike her to just show up in a dream and announce "Here I am! I'm taking care of you!" What would have been her? To quietly work behind the scenes to make sure that the people she loved were taken care of, and she would never have wanted to take any credit for it.
I was looking completely in the wrong direction. There she was, in the helping hands of neighbors, in the conversations of friends, in the interest of others. And she'd been there for a long time before I'd noticed.
Now I obviously can't prove that. And I'm not really in the business of proof here. I can say for now that this just feels like her.
Someday, though, I'll be able to ask her when I see her face to face. I can almost picture her smiling and coyly answering just as she did in life, "I have my ways."