Back in high school and college, I remember a period of time when it seemed all of my friends started losing their grandparents one right after another. I, of course, was not immune from this either. Such is life … unfortunately.
I received “the call” on my clunky Nokia that my sweet Grams had died right after I had finished taking a biology exam my freshman year of college. I received “the call” on a slightly less clunky Nokia that my Papa had joined her just after I graduated a few years later.
But “my troops” marched right on over.
I am not even sure just how the age-old protocol was invented or gets instilled in you, but it is pretty standard. Friend loses loved one. A cheese- and or mayonnaise-based casserole is made or a bucket of fried chicken is picked up. (It has to be fried for some reason. I don’t know why; it just does. I don’t make the rules.) You immediately travel to where friend is staying. Hugs, hand holding and intermittent laughter and tears occur as reminiscing begins.
It is oddly beautiful somehow. It is one of the darkest times of your life when you lose someone you love, but you never forget who was holding your hand tightly as they let go. The love you feel around you is palpable and special, and I guess it has to be, or you wouldn’t be able stand up and put one foot in front of the other.
Fast forward a couple of decades later, and now it seems those same friends who were losing grandparents the same time you were are now losing parents. I lost my mother over six years ago, and in the last year, four of my friends have lost either their mother or father — the last being one of my oldest friends, who lost her sweet, engaging, always laid back, funny, wonderful daddy last week.
Since I was one of the first to lose a parent among my friends, I always find myself doling out unsolicited advice during these times. They probably want to shove a fried drumstick down my throat, but I do it anyway. Because it just seems like that is what you are supposed to do.
I tell them it does get better. And it does. You won’t cry every single day, but you never get over it. The memories that are making you sob and putting knots in your gut right now will eventually make you smile fondly. I promise.
But there are going to also be numerous times when it hits you like a ton of bricks and feels like you have just lost them all over again. Unfortunately, I also promise this.
Some people dread the birthday and/or the anniversary of their loved one’s passing. Those have never been particularly upsetting for me. It’s all “the firsts” — the first things without them and the first things they miss — that I hate the most.
The first Mother’s Day as a daughter without a mother. The first Thanksgiving and Christmas. My wedding. The birth of my son. And then my daughter. My first Mother’s Day as a mother when I finally really understood just how much she loved me.
I suppose all of those are to be expected and you sort of mentally prepare yourself for “the big days.”
But some moments really sneak up on you too.
The most recent was my son’s first Tiny Tot soccer game. He wasn’t playing in the World Cup, and they weren’t even going to keep score. I mean, come on, they had to be constantly reminded which way to kick the ball. I’m not even sure Anders even fully grasped he was playing a game. As I rushed from work to get him from school and get him dressed and to the field, I hadn’t even thought about my mom. Not even for a second. But as he and I walked up, I noticed all of the grandparents setting up their lawn chairs in a row on our side and pointing out which child was “theirs.”
When I realized my mom’s chair was missing it hit me so hard, tears started just popping out of my eyes uncontrollably. Six years after she was gone. I had to walk away and collect myself before going back to cheer the Lions on to victory. (Even though they didn’t keep score, I’m pretty sure they won that one, Mom.)
You never get over it. But the next soccer game was easier. And so was the next.
But my mom was on my mind a lot the weeks following that first game. That seems to be just the way it goes. So much so, one morning I woke up with such an overwhelming need to be able to pick up my fancy iPhone and call her. I didn’t really have anything in particular to say. But of course, I couldn’t, so I called my friend who had lost her mother last year.
“I miss my mama,” I whined to her. She said, “I know. So do I. I still want to call her every morning as I am taking the kids to school because I did that every single morning.”
We spent some time exchanging all the things we wish we could still talk to our moms about, and I felt better. And I think she did too. There is just something about being able to talk to a friend who has also lost their anchor and who realizes exactly how adrift you sometimes feel.
Time will march on. And other parents will be lost. And eventually spouses and then each other. And more tears and hand-holding will be in order. Hopefully, later than sooner.
I hope I am blessed enough to watch my children grow up and get married and have children whose Tiny Tot soccer games I can shuffle slowly out to with my lawn chair under my arm, as I rock my Grandma hairdo.
And I also hope after Frank and I take our last breaths, our kids will sit around our kitchen table full of cheesy casseroles and buckets of fried chicken and have friends who are there, patting their backs and telling them that it will get better.
Because it will. I promise.