Shortly after losing my son, my friend, and confidant, Betsy, who lost a son about ten years ago, chuckled when she said that I would imprint my brain with a list of the people who attended my son’s funeral. “And, reprint a resentment list of those who didn’t!”
Her sarcasm proved to be true. It might sound petty, but small things like showing up for a young man’s, out-of-order death, is a big deal for bereaved moms, at least for this momma. I won’t belabor the number of MIAs on the list, but more than dredging up feelings of resentment, their unavailability leaves me baffled and, of course, hurt.
Take for example a woman I accidentally saw a few weeks ago. She works part-time at one of the churches in my town. Her son went to kindergarten and first grade with my son until our children attended separate schools after we moved to another town.
Before our relocation, my son and her son were best friends. I connected equally with her. In fact, I was there for some of the lowest, most vulnerable points of her life.
Over these last twenty years, she was “blessed” and things did work out for her. To the best of my knowledge, her mortgage is paid off. Her marriage is solid. Most importantly, her children are alive. Some fifteen months ago, when we had the funeral for my son, I expected her, like a number of others to be there. In addition, I expected her son’s attendance. I had faith in them. They were churchgoers. They were educated and well-versed in the golden rule. She worked at the local church and someone even bought a Mass there for my son. So, I’m positive the tragic news didn’t skip her or her family.
I not only expected her to be there, I needed her to be there. I hate to admit it, but there were two reasons I poured my heart out in my son’s obituary, which, now, I regret. Anyway, the first reason was to end the stigma of depression and suicide. The second was that behind the raw reality I painted in the obit, there was a vulnerable cry for help. As a former cub scout leader, long-ago loyal volunteer, I needed my long-ago tribe. I needed the familiarity of the people I once loved unconditionally. The people I staked my faith on.
In the end, there were two surprises I am grateful for. Michael G. One of the former wrestlers on my son’s team. I hadn’t seen him in a good 10 years. He showed up. Many of the teachers from my son’s high school also didn’t forget us.
After the nightmarish time of physically letting go of my son, when I am particularly feeling vulnerable, my mental list reprints inside my head. The list certainly kicked off when I saw the mom, parked and texting in her car with an unmistakably happy, snappy little aura spinning around her tidy little orbit of a world.
For a moment, I wanted to approach her. “Why? Please help me make sense of life and explain why you couldn’t spare thirty minutes of your Sunday afternoon or Monday morning to say good-bye? Or send a ninety-nine cent sympathy card. Why? Tell me how you contribute to global charities, but can’t give of yourself close to home? Why? Do I have cooties? Do you think you can catch someone’s bad luck? Do I symbolize a super spreader to you?”
Instead of cornering her and taking the risk of making her feel embarrassed, I “let it go.” I haven’t earned much in my career these last 36 years, but I’ve learned much from my 12-step recovery community. I do not have to harbor resentments. I can erase them. Start afresh. Let bygones be bygones, and allow her to drive off to her happy-ending home and obsess about the evening’s dinner choices. Me, I’ll take my crappy little bad luck “blessed” life. All of the hardships, abuse and downright cruelties. Like a young cadet, I have endured the boot camp of life. I know how to lift my head up, shine my heels, and look spiffy and coiffed. Cornelia, one of my beloved mentors, who passed away, and others, taught me so long ago. In other words, allow grace to soldier me forward. I may fall, stagger and sometimes think I do not have the strength to get up from the field of weeds, but I guarantee you, I’ll keep up with my manicures.