Life had different plans
The day before yesterday (Thursday, May 1, 2014), I had plans to hit the month running, or at least walking. Post the first entry in the new series I’ve been working on. And then meditate—for at least ten minutes (a day)—a personal goal I’ve set for this May. Neither happened though. This day, life had different plans in store.
Morning road blocks. My old refrigerator had been crying for a few months. A sick, whining sound. On this morning it shook and sighed; lights out, literally. It stopped running. I got my coffee and noticed then, that my dog was staring up at me with big apologetic eyes. Not for the death of my fridge, I’m pretty sure. Although he does sense when I’m sad or stressed. No, he was apologizing for the big, messy, grassy, puddle of puke on the carpet. “Aww, Reggie. It’s okay,” I told him. How could I be angry at that face? Meditating and writing were moving to the bottom of my list. Deep breath.
Reggie watched me spray, clean, dab, wipe, spray, clean…and I sensed him thinking, Man, if I just had thumbs like you I’d help you clean up that mess, I would… I kissed his little coconut head and tried to be in the moment—the way he was. Interested, helpful, even without thumbs his eyes were cleaning, focused, devoted. I tried to use these cleaning minutes to breathe and not think about anything else. Not quite the meditation I’d had in mind, but…
Back in the kitchen, I chucked a few things, milk, cold cuts, cheese…into a cooler and filled it with ice. I’d have to head out today and hunt down a new refrigerator. My original posting plans would have to wait.
Turning into a complicated thing
Hours later, after shopping a few home stores, I was hating the fact that choosing a basic thing like a refrigerator was turning into a complicated thing. I didn’t need a four-door fridge, an iPad in the door, or the latest German innovation. I took a break and headed for the mall where I’d grab lunch in the food court then check Sear’s appliance department.
I was “welcomed” at Moe’s and ordered a “Personal Trainer,” a veggie-taco salad. I sat and ate and people-watched. Pairs of moms poking at salads, chatting, while babies slept in strollers. Retired couples eating without talking. Fashionistas walking by, laughing, holding cell phones. Couples strolling, holding hands. Cleaning women silently sweeping, spraying, wiping off tables, picking up trash. Invisible someones. Saying nothing, asking nothing. I admired these women in their maroon and black uniforms floating around the large eating area with their carts and brooms.
One, an older woman, maybe sixty, with short practical hair, was very focused on what she was doing. Watching the floor, pushing her broom toward her dustpan. Meditating? Another, a middle-aged woman with dark quiet eyes, was wiping tables. And another, a younger woman, maybe in her late twenties, with a blonde ponytail, appeared from nowhere. She stood nearby and held up a wallet to the older woman who stopped sweeping then.
“Wanna see a picture of my baby that died?” the younger one said.
They were only a table’s distance away from me. I couldn’t help overhearing. And I couldn’t help wondering why I hear these things.
“Your baby?!” the older woman sounded shocked.
“Yes, she was born April twenty-first,” the blonde ponytail said.
“When? Last year?”
“No, nine years ago. She had a heart condition. She died May twelfth. She was twenty-one days old,” the younger one said.
The older woman shook her head at the photo in the wallet for at least fifteen seconds (a polite amount of time). Then continued sweeping and moved away from the mother with the dead baby in her hand, who seemed determined to find someone else to show and tell.
An unspeakable thing
I finished my salad, munched on chips and salsa, and crunched this young mother’s words in my head. “Wanna see a picture of my baby that died… April…nine years ago…heart condition…May…” Then my own thoughts mixed in: My baby died yesterday…April 30…seven years ago…heart condition…Look, that’s him, I show the photo in my mind. Yours was 21 days old? Mine was 3,346 days old. I kept my mouth shut and continued chewing. Nice one-upmanship, I chided myself. It just wasn’t the right time for me to meet this stranger and offer an ear. I was feeling too weighed down, carrying my dead child.
It’s so easy for moms of living children to share their proud mom info. How many do you have? Oh, me too! How old are yours? Oh, mine too! It’s so hard for moms of dead children to share, because the dead son or daughter story is taboo. Unspeakable. Forbidden. Unexpected. Horrible. Shocking. Unless it’s told to another with the same unspeakable story.
I kept watching. The other cleaning woman, with the dark hair, had begun wiping a table nearby. The blond pony-tailed woman approached her, like she was on a mission. With her chin up she said again, “Wanna see a picture of my baby that died?”
The darker woman’s eyes became huge. “What…?”
“She was born April twenty-first. She died May twelfth. She was twenty-one days old,” the ponytail said again.
The dark-haired woman looked stunned. Like she wanted to run, but couldn’t. Oh boy, I thought. Who to feel sorrier for?
Why am I buying a refrigerator?
I packed up my trash and left. As I walked through the mall toward Sears to shop for a fridge, thoughts and questions ran through my head. Why do we bereaved parents need so badly to talk about our dead children? Why do we need to show their pictures to co-workers, strangers even? Because we do. We are never detached from our deceased children. Why do we recount the days they lived? Why is it so important that we state the dates of their births and deaths? Because it is. Their time mattered, matters. They matter, still. Why am I buying a refrigerator the day after the day that my son died? Why are we so alone? Maybe I should go back…no, another day; find that young cleaning woman and ask her about her loss. Because she really needed to talk about her deceased child. At times, we really need to talk about the traumatizing experience we’ve been through. So I might. Will I? Go back? Should I? Why not. Another day though. Not today…
I walked into Sears (appliances on my left) and a cheerful salesman greeted me. “Hello! How’re you doing today?”
In a millisecond, My son died. His heart… He was 3,346 days old. Wanna see a picture of him? I thought, but of course said, “I’m doing fine, thanks. How ’bout you?
“I’m great! What can I help you with today?”
“Well. My refrigerator died. So…”