I remember that moment with my son Joe. Only he wasn’t the typical obstinate, rebellious kind. You know the one who locks himself in his room blasting “shake the whole house” thunderous music. No, he wasn’t one of those.
Now, as I struggle to remember the infant, the toddler, the second grader, I must accept the fact that my advanced age has faded my memory.
Perhaps my strained reminiscences of Joe as a child are clouded by what I more clearly remember about his adult self.
However, I do remember one day in particular. I actually stopped in the middle of putting Joe’s folded laundry on top of his dresser and sat down on his bed. He was probably 14 or 15 at the time. The feeling of sadness was overwhelming as I thought to myself, I have lost my son. I hardly know him at all anymore.
I questioned whether he was always naturally quietly shy. Or, I wondered, had he slowly evolved into his mysteriously, calm introversion without me noticing?
I recently watched an old video of Joe’s eighth birthday party. The excitement on his face was not at all diminished by the poor quality of the black and white tape. Ghostly images poked and prodded at me, compelling me to recall. But the animated images could not transform my pallid reflections into vivid recollections.
As I rewound the tape back for a second view, I was overcome with nostalgia.
I’m sure that type of reaction is normal for anyone watching old home movies.
For me, remembrances frozen in time by photos and videos of Joe seem to pick at the jagged edges of the hole in my heart, until they are raw and too painful to touch.
For the past couple of months I have been participating in a bereavement group. We have been meeting on Tuesday afternoons. At the last session we were given the assignment to bring in an object which would signify our loved ones legacy.
On the way home from the meeting, I thought about what I would bring. An idea easily came to me. It would be a set of Russian Nesting Dolls. They would naturally represent the many layers of who Joe was.
I was happy with my choice. As soon as I got home, I went online and ordered a set.
At the next meeting, as I anxiously waited for my turn to “show and tell”, I wasn’t exactly sure of what I was going to say.
“Okay, Lynda, can you share with the group now?”
I could feel my face start to flush. My hands shook as I reached into my purse to pull out the nesting dolls.
Writing about this now, one week later, I can hardly remember what words came out of my mouth. I do remember nervously playing with the dolls, taking each one out of the other. I also recall going off on a tangent, saying something about how I didn’t really know my son as a mother should know her child. Mostly, though, I can only conjure up in my mind an impression of muffled mumblings, like one of the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon.
I felt as though all eyes were on me, but they were confused eyes. I started to cry. Why were they not understanding what I was saying? What was I saying? At that point, I’m sure that even I didn’t know.
But I have had time to reflect. A week’s worth in fact. In fact, my mind is dizzy from the constant turning spinning and replaying the incident.
After giving this much more thought, I have figured out that Joe did not have any one specific legacy to pass on. Like most of us he shared a different part of himself with each person in his life.
As a mother, I am not ready to give up my part of him. I grieve the loss of getting to know him as an adult, and especially as a father.
I recognize that somewhere deep inside of me, my grief has made me capable of sometimes being envious of the parts of himself that he shared with others.
I always thought that platitudes like “Live life to its fullest”, or “Life isn’t a dress rehearsal” and Stop and smell the roses”, were meaningless.
Do we really have a choice other than to live life minute by minute? Crisis by crisis? We have things to handle. Stuff to take care of. Business that has to get done. Who else will do the laundry and sweep the floors?
No, it’s true, I am not ready to let go of the anger I feel when I think about how much more of life Joe had to live. The hurt is unbearable when I think about how much more love he had to give to Domani, Anne, his family and all of the others whose lives he touched
Wisdom? I do have bits of it. At my age I would hope so. Some moments, when I can lay my ache to rest for a bit, the realization of how short our time here is, may not always bring me peace, but an acceptance of sorts instead.
Through the harsh reality of terminal cancer, Joe gained an entire life’s worth of wisdom in less than a second of his life.
A day that I will always remember is the day Joe called me and said he wanted to bring Domani to the beach for the first time.
That day I was caught up in the moment of seeing Joe with his son, on the beach. The look on Domani’s face when his little toes touched sand for the first time was adorable. The look on Joe’s face as he watched Domani play with the sand as it ran through his little fingers was timelessly precious.
Now, as I think about that day, I understand that Joe wanted to share that moment with me. That day is surely a gift he lovingly brought to me.
After Joe died, I began to notice things around me that I hadn’t paid much attention to before. I started to actually distinguish the difference between a red cardinal’s song and that of a finch. The sky is not always just all blue or gray, but shades of hues and at special times brilliant splashes and streaks of red and orange excitement. I sit and contemplate the way the gentlest of breezes fluff the shrubs and slightly bend the tops of the pines.
I began to carry a camera with me to capture those moments. Last winter, as I was slowly awakening from the numbness of my zombie like state, I would go out early in the morning, sometimes drudging though six inches of snow, to find what I could discover in the meadow across the way.
Joe’s strength and appreciation for every minute of his life was certainly a part of himself that he shared with all of us.
Would I consider that Joe’s legacy to me?
No, Joe was simply my son. His whole of the parts of himself was the legacy.
A Russian Nesting Doll.
Joe passed away on December 5, 2011.
I miss him each and every one minute of my life.