“Let us be kind to one another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle.” ~Ian MacLaren
Love. Trepidation. Tears. Truth. Memories. Laughter. Connection. Reconnection. Oh, and a Fire Dancer… The memorial service for my son was over, and there was nothing more for me to do. EVER. Well, at least there was nothing more I could do for Nick.
That kind of thinking dropped me into a new reality. For awhile, despite all the love and support, I felt disconnected, even from those closest to me. Everyday routines and places seemed bizarrely unfamiliar.
Certainly the apartment I rented three years earlier, the place where I came to cherish the freedom, quiet and order of living alone, had lost its’ sparkle. My little oasis was murky and dull. It felt, and even smelled like sadness. I was done there.
My partner lovingly suggested I move in with her and her daughter, a proposal I had considered, then rejected several times before. I feared a situation where I had no real private space would only lead to imbalance, frustration, and ultimately another break up. My fundamental need for a hefty dose of solitude ranks high, immediately behind oxygen.
We decided to convert the garage into an art studio for me.
The move and garage conversion generated countless to-do lists. One of the items on my list this October morning was so out of the ordinary, I wasn’t sure how to begin to prepare for it. I decided to tackle the most mundane chore first, the one that guaranteed a measure of frustration but would offer no surprises. I went to Home Depot.
Once there, I located the few small items I needed fairly easily (for a change). I was headed toward the checkout line, lost in my thoughts until an overly cheerful man loudly called out to me from behind a table. Instead of the usual “Are you a homeowner? For a limited time we are offering blah blah blah remodel, blah blah…” he said:
“Hello over there! It’s a lovely day, isn’t it? Awww, why the sad face? Cheer up! What could be so terrible on a day like this?”
As he spoke, he came out from behind his table and stopped right in front of me, literally blocking my path. I reached out and put both of my hands on his shoulders. We were almost the same height. Now it was my turn.
“I could say something really weird to you right now.”
His entire demeanor changed. He looked at me with these piercing blue eyes and softly said:
Because I was annoyed, I must confess that I think I answered him with the intention of either shocking, shaming or shutting him up. Probably all three.
“I’m on the way to pick up my son’s ashes.” (So there Mr. Cheerful, I thought to myself).
“My son died on September third,” he replied.
I was the one who was stunned. Under the buzzing fluorescent lights of my neighborhood Home Depot, once again I found myself standing in that deep knowing of the previously unimaginable with someone, who only a moment before, was a complete stranger!
“Are you Jewish?” he asked, as if he’d suddenly come up with a great idea.
“No, but I was raised…”
Before I could finish my sentence he reached out and pulled me into a sweet bear hug, and gently rocking, began to pray:
“Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam…”
Mark’s son was a married man in his early 40’s with children. He died of a drug overdose. Apparently he wasn’t taking the drugs the professionals had prescribed for him, and was secretly self-medicating with the one that killed him.
Mark and I agreed that as parents, our pain did not begin the day our sons died. But we knew that as long as they were alive, there was always hope. I told him how glad I was that we met and thanked him for the prayer. I also jokingly admitted my irritation with his initial approach. We laughed and hugged one last time.
Although I couldn’t help but feeling anxious about going to the funeral home, I left the store with another very clear reminder that no matter how hard I try to convince myself otherwise, I am not alone.
Postscript: It's now been almost two and a half years since Nick passed. After several more of these types of experiences, (they continue to this day), and much study and exploration on my part, I now know that this incident was among the first group of signs my son Nick would send me. He is not lost to me. He is very present in my life and the lives of those he loves.