I'm back in Texas this week, after having visited Mike for two weeks. My last day there, we drove up to Niagara Falls to meet up with my sister and her family. It was her first time meeting him and his daughter Shelby, and it was wonderful to see how well he fit in. Again, just like with my friends, he fit into the picture eerily as well as Drew. Only it didn't feel like he was replacing him at all, but more like honoring his space. My sister adored Shelby. Since she raised three boys, she's pretty excited about the prospect of a new little girl in our world. It was all so seamless.
This was Shelby's first time to see Niagara Falls, as Mike and Megan never made it up with her for a visit. It was so much fun to be a part of that experience, of one of her firsts. In such a short time, she has stolen my heart (which she seems to do with everyone) and I can literally sit around for hours and just watch her experiencing the world and being her goofy self. I am always seeing myself in her too. I am daily reminded of the little girl I was, who also lost her mom around the same age and had a similar spunk and charisma. With every joy and every sorrow she has, I see some bit of me. I also see a different girl, who is already living a very different version of this story than I did...
My mom died when I was nine – and Shelby's died when she was seven. That's about where the parallels end though. My dad never dated again, nor remarried, though I had other women in my life who served as mother figures (teachers, neighbors, etc). In some ways, that is what I wanted. I was overprotective, insecure, and scared of anyone getting between me and my dad. This made romantic relationships difficult for me as a young adult, and for a time I was lost in some very toxic and abusive situations. My parents also had a very volatile marriage, wheras Mike and Megan had a solid, loving one. Already Shelby is at an advantage, which is easy to see by how well adjusted and secure of a kid she is.
Shelby has never seemed to feel threatened by me. She has been crazy about me from the get go (to my huge relief and amazement!). I have always figured this to be partly because I lost Drew, but also my mom too. I feel an unspoken bond to her in having lost our moms young... and I told Mike this once: “For years I have been saying there was a reason that I lost my mom so young... I just didn't know what it was. I always believed a day would come when I would know that reason. I think maybe Shelby is it.” I'm fairly sure we both cried, or at least I did, at that moment.
I cannot express what a gift it is to me to be able to watch her just being her. To watch her goofing off and experiencing new places and learning new things. Just watching her look at the falls and laughing with her whenever the spray from them would blow up and drench us. To tickle her and play games with her and be silly together. To bring her dad love and laughter and joy too, and for her to see that. A hundred times a day or more, I am aware her mother is not here to laugh with her.
That awareness never leaves me, and it never will. Because I know it better than anyone. I know how hard it is to grow up without your mother. It is still hard 24 years after her death, to not have my mom here. I will always have this sadness that haunts me... a sadness that wishes for Megan to be here to see it all instead of me. It should be her. Not me. But we don't have that I guess... instead we have this other gift that is each other. By some grace I believe Megan brought us all together, and though I'll always wish it were her instead, this is the very thing that gives me the deepest kind of gratitude for every moment I share with Shelby, and with Mike.
That is one of the beautiful things that death brings us, though. We are somehow inexplicably brought together with others who understand our story, pain, love, longing, anger and fears. We find the people who get just how deep this pain runs, and it is through this shared pain that we end up with relationships that are deeper than anything we've ever known. And together through that grief family, we all heal.