Sunday, October 14, 2012

Grief is a Sneaky Thief

Sluggish from the cold and cranky from not eating, I bolstered myself for the inevitable acres of ugly shoes I would find on the other side of the department store door. I was looking for shoes for a trip the next day, my least favorite past time when "shoes" meant boring, flat, uneven-pavement-appropriate foot coverings that also had to work with suits. Bah.

The ugliness of the shoes did not disappoint. Laps and laps around tables of tricked out clogs and pilgrim-buckle flats was proving to be fruitless and frustrating until I heard the sound of laughter coming from a section of chairs. I looked over to see a grey-haired woman in her mid-60s walking away in a pair of shoes, her daughter near me with a half-laughing, half-exasperated look on her face.

"She can be so difficult with these things," the daughter smiled. I looked up again to see this woman, so like my mom with her jeans, her silver-top short hair, her sweater and vest, sparking eyes and great smile taking another lap to test out her selection. My breath caught and a lump swelled in my throat. "Your mom reminds me of my mom, actually," I said. "My mom's been gone for two years. She was a handful too." It was all I could do not to add "Treasure these moments because you never know what is going to happen next."

The jealousy I felt for that daughter in that moment was completely overwhelming. I walked away, trying to fight back the tears and compose myself, all of the angry thoughts about my mom dying too early rushing into my mind and heart. I wanted to run out the door, leave so I could get rid of the visual as quickly as possible. Instead I circled back around and struck up a conversation.

True to my initial perception, this woman was every bit as spunky and fun as my own mom. We complained about the ugly shoes, talked about how people don't dress for work any more, giggled about how shoe shopping in such conditions nearly drove one to drink and agreed that a drink this early in the day would surely be fodder for the gossipy nature of our smallish town. And then, they picked up and walked out with gracious goodbyes, a twosome together on to their next stop.

It was, for a moment, a strange sort of contact high. In a parallel space, my brain kept saying "It's like I can be with my mom, but not really. This is like being with my mom just for a minute. Is this good, or is this bad?", both taking me out of the moment and drawing me deeper into it. I bought my ugly shoes and stumbled back out into the rain, a bit fogged as to what had just happened.

I sat with these mixed emotions all night, trying to talk myself through the roller coaster of feelings I was having. It was an unusual night, my family away and friends that I usually turn to not available. For the first time in a long time, I had to sit with it on my own and deal, just deal, with my feelings and sadness. I just had to be with it.

Grief is a tricky thing. Sometimes it's a rubber ball let off in a room, zinging and flying all around without any sense of continuum or trajectory. Sometimes it's a sneaky thief that catches you unawares and tries to take something from you. Most times, you have to fight the urge to run away from it, instead standing with pain borne of loss, but borne of good memories and deep longing. Standing with grief, leveling with it, exposing yourself to it is the journey of anyone who has suffered loss. It's the path to recovering from that suffering. It's the way to begin to heal and move forward. It's a bitch of a job.

I like to imagine that at some point in a department store in Oklahoma City many years ago, someone else had the experience I did yesterday with a woman and her three daughters and the laughter and love that showed through. I like to imagine that the woman and her daughter I met yesterday somehow knew that they made a difference in my afternoon. I like to imagine that we provide spaces for each other in this reconnecting to things we have lost along the way. I like to imagine my mom would have found a certain beauty in this story.

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