Tragedy changes things. In a matter of seconds nothing is as it was. Nor will it ever be again. It’s as though someone violently shook the snow globe representing your world, and no longer do you recognize your surroundings. Nor do many of your surroundings recognize you.
And when the flakes of artificial snow finally settle in the strange glass ball attached to the tacky oak base, still, everything is different. You wake up one day and notice, in a vast sea of things unrecognizable, you’ve traded privacy for over-sharing on the internet. Analytical skills for creative writing ones. Real Housewives for philosophical reading. Passion for apathy. Blonde for brunette. A mild case of resting bitch face for a more permanent affliction. A larger social circle for a smaller, more meaningful one. And happy hours with friends and co-workers for conversations in the frigid cold with Mary.
A lot’s happened since I first wrote about Mary, the parking garage attendant who sees into my soul. So it’s time for an update…
First, after my original post I ran into Mary in our building lobby. She hugged me and asked how I was doing. And I burst into tears, at which point she reminded me she understands – because she too lost her son. Apparently, on that hot day in August, due to my grief fog and the chaos which ensued after telling her about Matthew (she listed several family tragedies), I managed to mix up Mary’s story. So no wonder Mary understands. She too is a bereaved mother. Her son was murdered ~18 years ago.
Second, I was right naming her Mary. Her real name is Sharon! Though these names seem different, I still believe I nailed it (in a John Edward/Monica the Medium sort of way). You see, I named her Mary because I envision “Marys” as kindred spirits. But Mark’s mom’s name is Sharon. And she too epitomizes a kindred spirit. So, though Mary doesn’t sound like Sharon, to me, both mean “kindred spirit.”
Third, as promised, on December 23, I gave Mary (she’ll still be Mary in my blog) a Christmas gift – a card and a gift card to buy some lunches at a nearby eatery. I addressed the card, “To My Sister in Loss of a Child.” This was the only Christmas gift I gave, only because I promised to do it. Because, certainly, there are many in my life deserving of gifts and things more special than money can buy.
Fourth, presenting Mary her gift was such a defining moment in a relationship so beautiful. I envisioned, not far away, a quartet of angels, with glowing halos, dressed in white from head to toe, sitting on white, puffy clouds, playing harmonicas (or is it harps?). But then, all of a sudden, one of these precious angels swallows her harmonica, and it’s lodged in her esophagus, and she’s choking. Because she witnessed this exchange…
M – Do you think you’ll have another?
C – I don’t know. Probably at some point.
M – I bet by this time next year, you’ll tell me you’re pregnant, or you’ll bring me your new baby!
C – Maybe. I hope so. But I’ll be so terrified next time.
M – Girl, next time just don’t over extend yourself! Don’t come to work. Stay at home!
C – I was actually at home on a Sunday when I decided to go into the hospital. It was completely unexpected. He was healthy, but his umbilical cord was in a knot, and it cut off his oxygen.
M – And you mean to tell me you didn’t raise your hands up over your head or nothing!?
Wommmmmp. Wommmmmp. She thinks it’s my fault.
But I wasn’t angry, because never can a real life relationship mirror a Lifetime Original Movie forever. All such illusions of perfection must come to an end. (Sorry to those uber-optimistic ones.) But the angel was still choking and verging on death (can angels die?) and, for some reason, the others weren’t jumping in to do the Heimlich maneuver (those selfish assholes).
But, luckily, this angel coughed up her harmonica, thereby saving her own life, when the scene became poetic again…
M – Do you have a support group? You could come to my one for family members of victims of violent crime. It’s just a few blocks away at a church.
C – Oh, thanks so much! But there’s actually a really good support group at my hospital.
M – Oh good! Support group’s really helped me.
C – It helps me too.
And then we exchanged hugs and vowed to do lunch together. And, as I made my way into my office building, I thought it was weird Mary invited me to her support group for those affected by a tragedy entirely different. But then, I thought, maybe it wasn’t weird. Because I’m sure my support group would welcome her with open arms. (Though maybe only a few times, because I’m confident specific support groups exist for a reason.)
But loss of a child bonds people – so much between bereaved parents is spoken without ever speaking a word.
But since the Choking Angel Moment, my and Mary’s relationship has returned to its usual, beautiful state.
On Christmas Eve, I cried for most the day. The tears started flowing in the morning, on my way to work, my most prevailing thoughts being, “I’m so alone. No one understands. And few will ever understand.”
As I rounded the corner into the parking garage, rolled down my window, and lifted my access card to the scanner, I noticed Mary – she opened the window to her booth…
“Thank you so much for the card and gift! It was the sweetest! I opened it in front of my family, and we all cried! And they said, ‘You just never know who you’re impacting!’” she shouted.
“Well, you’ve impacted me! Sometimes, I go through a whole day thinking you’re the only one who understands. So thank you,” I explained, choking back tears.
“It’s because I might BE the only one who understands! People don’t understand! Because they haven’t been in our shoes! They haven’t experienced tragedy! But everyone’s time’s a coming!!!” her words echoed across the concrete walls as we exchanged our familiar, understanding nods, and I drove away.
And as I drove around in circles, up six stories, Mary’s words continued to reverberate through my mind. And I felt myself crack a half-smile. Because, this sweet, kindred-spirited, 60-ish-year-old lady, had just, in a public place, at the top of her lungs shouted something so seemingly-sinister, “Everyone’s time’s a coming!” And the whole situation seemed must like a scene from Saturday Night Live.
And I pondered her words, eventually deciding she meant nothing sinister at all. In fact, the despair Mary showed that hot August day after hearing my news revealed she possesses not a sinister bone in her body, rather she’s one of the gentlest of souls.
More than anything I think Mary’s words reflect how wise she’s become to a truth some have the good fortune of being able to bury in the deepest, rarest accessed parts of their brains for far longer. A truth explained so well by this quote:
“There really is only one ending to any story. Human life ends in death. Until then, it keeps going and gets complicated and there’s loss. Everything involves loss; every relationship ends in one way or another.” ― Charlie Kaufman (American screenwriter)
And I think what Mary was trying to say is that she’s kind to others, because she never knows what they might be going through. Or what they will go through. And if and when people in her life experience loss or hardship, she’s ready to extend compassion and hugs, regardless of whether or not they’ve understood her journey for all these years.
Though, to be fair, not everyone will experience the sickening grief associated with losing a child. I’ve seen various estimates of the percentage of those who will, and although said percentages vary, they’re always pretty small.
So I’m fairly certain I’ll always feel at least a bit alone in losing a child. And I’m pretty sure Mary will too. Which is why we’re becoming fast friends via the most unfortunate of bonds.
So I continue to be thankful for Mary and her kindness and her warm hugs through my car window (a new thing), which cut through the cold and help soothe my broken heart. And for future lunch dates.
And sometimes I think back to Mary’s words, “Everyone’s time’s a coming.” And I’m bitter that one of my times came at the tender age of 30. (Though I recognize the flip side is that I should also be thankful I never knew first-hand such intense pain and suffering prior.) And I’m bitter I’ll spend a potentially long life missing Matthew so much it physically hurts sometimes.
And I’m scared. Because Mary’s right – everyone will experience great loss and hardship. Because life can be brutal and is incredibly fragile. And sometimes my fear is paralyzing.
Lately, it seems, I spend so much time just hoping and praying I (and those close by) don’t experience anything nearly this excruciatingly awful for a very, very long time. That from here on out life is kind. And that we each die peaceful deaths only after the longest, most fulfilling of lives. But the logical part of me cautions it’s unrealistic to expect this will ring true for everyone.
So, in all my brokenness, I’ll try to treat people kindly. Because I don’t fully know others’ “nows” or their futures. And I hope I can be a source of compassion and support. Like Mary.
“We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world–the company of those who have known suffering.” ― Helen Keller, We Bereaved