Shortly after my mom and uncle’s accident, I was at my uncle’s house with Eric and Madeleine. I was still pregnant. Walking into the empty house was like walking into a room without oxygen. The idea that my uncle left the house on October 18, and that since then, nobody had slept another night there, left me breathless. It literally knocked the wind out of me and I had to consciously take deep breaths.
At some point while we were there, my “uncle’s car” drove down the road. Now, obviously this was not my uncle’s car. My uncle’s car was in pieces. I had seen the photos. And yet, as I stood in the living room looking out the window, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the road. Even though my mind knew better, my heart had a strange hope hiding deep inside. Hope that the car would turn into the driveway. That my mom and uncle would get out. That this was all some misunderstanding. At the time, I found it completely bizarre how I could “know” that they were gone, dead, never coming back, and yet, at the same time harbour hope that I would still see them both again one day.
I recently joined the What’s Your Grief online book club, and the first book we’re reading is Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. I am only half-way through, but I love the title – magical thinking – that bizarre hope that a person you have seen dead with your own eyes, is really not dead. And, a week ago when I started the book, I thought in my head, “yes, yes… I know what that’s about. I used to have that.”
Then, tonight, while waiting to be seated at a restaurant, I got a glimpse of a man who looked similar to my uncle. It knocked the wind out of me, just like that black car did many months ago. After my brief glimpse, I woman stood between us, blocking my view. And, wouldn’t you know, I squirmed, without taking my eyes off of this man, until I could get a full view to confirm that it was not my uncle. Those brief seconds felt like forever, and I desperately hoped that this man was the man whose lap I had sat in as a child. I hoped that I’d be able to run up and be wrapped up in his huge hug. That I could cry into his shoulder and tell him how awful it was thinking that he was gone.
I’m not sure why, maybe because of seeing that man at the restaurant, I chose to read Love You Forever to Madeleine tonight. At the end of the book, we were talking about how mommies and daddies love their babies forever and ever even when they get sick and old. Madeleine burst into tears and told me that she didn’t want Eric and I to die, and then asked if Grammy was old and that’s why she had to “go up there” (her 4-year-old way of speaking of the abstractness of heaven). In that moment, in a very different way, I had magical thinking. I wanted to tell her that of course we won’t die on her. We’ll be here for as long as she needs us.
But, now, even more than ever, I know that I can’t tell Madeleine that. Because even though I don’t want to ever leave her, that is not within my control. I want to be able to forever nurture her, and reflect back to her who I see her as – a perfectly imperfect person. I don’t ever want either of my girls to feel the pain that I feel, to be motherless. But, that is the price we must pay for deep love and connection.