I’m still working my way back into life on the island from the last two weeks I spent in New Orleans helping out my stepdaughter and her family. Two weeks of helping care for a four year old and a two year old with a newborn there as well pretty much knocks out everything else one might otherwise be doing or thinking about. Having never raised babies myself it was a new experience…one I treasured deeply, and one that has helped me begin to really understand both the joy and exhaustion of parenting. I hated to leave her, hate not being closer to see those children grow, hate thinking I am so far away…but, her own mother was flying in the day I left, so she will still have some help for awhile. Even though I am a stepparent, I have many years of memories with her…I went to her high school graduation, and now she is, some 17 years later, raising three beautiful children. It breaks my heart not to be able to share it all with Mike, who was always so proud of both his daughters.
I am so grateful I was able to do this trip. I got to spend every morning with the two older children, getting them breakfast, and driving the four year old to school while their parents tried to catch some extra sleep after dealing with the baby all night, or long hours at work in the case of my son-in-law. It was a little like herding cats…but after a few days I’m happy to report we became a machine (mostly), taking care of those mornings. And spending hours playing with the kids, coming up with ideas to keep them occupied and having fun, helping with the domestic chores…hearing the kids calling for “Tutu” to come and help them with the issue of the moment just made my heart soar. They are at an age now where they will now start remembering me. And my stepdaughter and son-in-law and I spent some quality time talking about Mike. We widowed people always appreciate being able to talk about our lost loves…but talking about them with people who also knew and loved them is a special gift. Our shared memories, our shared laughs at how they were, our shared tears…I cannot begin to express how grateful how I am to be a part of their lives and hope I always will be.
Even the four year old had things to say about Mike. One afternoon driving him home from school he pipes up from behind me where he is buckled in his car seat and asks about my parents. You understand…he is only four. But he wonders if my parents are in heaven. No, I say, they are still here with us. Oh, he says, well, my Grandpa Mike is in heaven and I miss him. I am startled and completely caught off guard. I know sweetie, I say, Grandpa Mike was my husband, that’s how I know you, did you know that? I watch him in my rearview mirror, his brain clearly working to put all the pieces together…Another time we are at the zoo and the four year old pipes up and points at a man walking by, hey that guy looks like Grandpa Mike! What?? He has told my stepdaughter he can’t remember him but he likes to look at pictures (he was 1 1/2 when Mike died), so we are again startled by his observation coming out of the blue…that child is keeping the memory of his Grandpa alive in ways that surprise us, and make us smile, and sometimes, break our hearts for wishing he could have known him. When the superhero costumes come out and the two wee people scamper about the house, their small capes fluttering behind them, we could only smile knowingly at how closely they are following their grandfather, who even in later years loved to dress the part…
My trek home was complicated again, seems to be the usual…mechanical delays threw a wrench into my itinerary and I spent another night at an airport hotel at LAX. Those kinds of things no longer bother me though. I just ride the wave as it comes these days. But by the time I got home I was so exhausted - not just from the travel and time change but the whole trip - I fell into bed even though it was the middle of the afternoon.
When I woke up later in the evening, the musician called me to tell me he had been in a bad car accident coming home from their gig. He was carpooling with the drummer whose van was totaled by a truck whose driver was, we think, under the influence. Both guys walked away from it but you all will understand how my heart pounded in my chest from adrenaline, imagining if things had gone another way…I won’t even spend any more time writing about this because you all know the terror of what I’m talking about here.
And I also had yet another birthday this week. The fourth since Mike died. I can’t believe that much time has gone by.
I am just really, really, really concentrating on treasuring the people I have in my life, and every fragile and delicate moment of time I am here. Every single member of my family, every single friend…every relationship is important; every experience, every day and every minute is one I try to savor, as it is all so fleeting.
I don’t want to spend much time thinking about losing anyone again but it’s hard. I don’t want to spend much time being sad at being so far away from so many people I love but it’s hard. I don’t want to spend much time hating the idea of growing older without Mike…but it is very, very, very, hard.