It happened again last night. Alex had a school performance and, of course, I went to attend. There were a lot of people there, and anyone who knows me well knows that I am not really that comfortable in a crowd. There were all these kids who I have known since they were in kindergarten, now in fifth grade, only they don't look the same. During Joseph's illness I shrank away from all the school stuff and focused on getting through life, so all my memories became very static...in my head, none of the kids had grown up, even though mine has. It startled me last night to see all these kids having changed so much from my internal perceptions and memories of them. Some of them I did not recognize.
This was the grade school that Joseph attended and left to continue on to middle school. A lot of the administration there knew Joseph for years and many of the teachers are still the same. It is conspicuous to me how they all know Stewart so well. He has been a very intense and commendable volunteer at the school, whereas I am SO not a PTA Mom and have never been comfortable with the subtle comparisons and judgements that get passed around, the politics of motherhood. I went through a hard time emotionally when Stewart and I were divorcing and the subsequent cascade of tragedies in Alexander's brain tumor, my father's death, and then, of course, Joseph's leukemia and his own subsequent death, and as a result, my ability to navigate what felt to me like very unfriendly, hostile waters shadowed in smiles just disappeared. My willingness to volunteer for anything at all went away and I stayed away from the school as much as possible. I have been a stranger to that part of my children's lives, and I am not proud of it now. I always feel as if people there look at me as the absentee mother, that they perceive my divorce from Stewart and leave-taking of school activities and volunteerism as my having abandoned my children. I question those decisions (that of disappearing from the school activities) on my own part now and wish I had done it differently, but life has moved on, children have grown and time cannot be regained once it has passed. I did my best to smile, be open and friendly and I was proud to watch Alexander do his thing last night.
I was quiet coming home and settled in on the couch to read and withdraw from the world for a wihle. I had no sense of sadness, just a silence in my heart. When Joe called me over to him and I knelt at his chair and leaned in to kiss him, he put his palm to my cheek, tenderly...and I just felt this internal surge, a sense of warmth and energy rushing from my insides into the warmth of his palm and the strength he has represented in my life...and, rare for me, I was suddenly, inexplicably overwhelmed. Poor guy. The tears started to fall and he had no idea what was wrong with me. I didn't really either and simply said so when he asked what was the matter. It was the school and the continued echo of a place where Joseph lived his life. It was all the things I missed and failed to do. It was all the love I feel for my children now. It was recognition that Nick is turning 14 in two weeks and will have officially outlived Joseph in number of years (a subject that probably deserves its own blog entry. I cannot explain the odd sense inside of your middle child being older than your oldest child). It was just something that had to come out I guess. He just pressed me into his chest and told me to cry...and I obeyed. He took me to bed and held me and I wept myself to sleep in his arms.
I always have felt vaguely guilty when that happens. Its not as if it happens often, but it seems unfair. I came home and was quiet and uncommunicative. Maybe his head wasn't in that place. Maybe he needed something from me and I let my grief trump any need he might have, without even seeing what it was. He would never want me to apologize, and so I won't. Obviously I needed that to happen. I struggled for a short time against it and my throat hurt so badly from trying to shut down my weeping that I almost could not breathe. In fact, I do hold my breath when I am trying not to cry, so that when I finally must breathe, the next breath comes out as even more of a sob than it would have been if I would have just had peace with the emotion as it hit me. It just broke over me, like a wave. I was honestly helpless to it. I feel the resonance of it today still, but am feeling much better. I think the silence of heart that temporarily letting go of school has allowed me has let me grieve in a better, healthier way and also let me live in a better, healthier way. There just isnt' room for it when I am so busy.
A good friend of mine, who also has lost a child, referred to her new fulfillment in domesticity as "nesting"...that though the ability to care for our sick children is now gone, we can still care for the family we have, and it gives us something to do with the lingering energy that the missing soul once used. That makes sense to me.
"Come Sail Away" by Styx came on the radio spontaneously twice yesterday. First time that has happened since somewhere around 1985 I think. It made me smile. It made me remember. It made me sad. It made me relieved. He isn't sick anymore. And neither am I.