Next Time You See Her . . .
(Next Time you See Her: Eric Clapton from the LP Slowhand)
“When is the last time you saw her,” was the query from my son this week?
“Who?” I couldn’t help but ask. That was a loaded question on any day.
“Mom, when’s the last time you saw her, Dad?”
I have to admit, I was over-thinking the question. I thought maybe he meant did I see her, feel her, sense her around us.
“No, I mean when’s the last time you went to the cemetery, Dad?”
It’s not often I think I’m trying to be too smart for something confronting me. This was, however, one of those times.
Early on I used to get a myriad of people coming to me saying that they saw, felt, even sensed my late wife’s presence. I never begrudged them the help they seemed to get from my wife, it sincerely seemed to help them. Whether it was asking her for help when they thought they couldn’t finish a race (that happened, by the way. Amazing story.) Or someone saying they needed help and Andrea came into their mind and suddenly the solution to their problem just sort of . . . appeared. I was very happy they got the help they needed. I wasn’t at all angry and didn’t think badly of that situation at all.
Okay . . . I’m lying.
At one point, after a close friend said they’d felt like she was around I angrily – and this was early in my grief so please don’t think poorly of me – stated “well I’m glad she’s helping so many other people because she sure as hell hasn’t helped me or her f*%#ing kids!”
Yeah. That pretty much ended the conversation there and then.
But to my son’s question first . . . I had visited the cemetery just a couple days before I went to pick up the kids. I even took cleaning materials and scrubbed down her gravestone. I actually go more often than I thought I ever would. It took me over a year to finally put the headstone on her grave, something that just seemed to finally end her tale. Once I had done it, though, it was something that allowed me to have a focus point.
My kids don’t like going and I don’t force them. In fact at least a couple of them do their best to avoid the area altogether. The mortuary and cemetery is the focal point of a couple years of loss for them. Their Mom, their grandfather and then their grandmother all ended up here. It’s not a place of pleasantries for them.
But for 18 years of marriage I talked with Andrea about everything. Sometimes it was angry, argumentative discussion. Sometimes it was confused, scared pleadings to help figure out how a fix a problem for our children. Almost always it was ended with “I love you” and we had some sort of closing to the scenario. That was – and is – hard to live without. So when things are particularly bad . . . and when they’re particularly pleasant . . . I go there and tell her.
This is what I told my son. It’s important he know that, I suppose, since he can see that, even after marriage is over, you still tend to crave that part of things. It’s the deep-seated commitment and caring along with discussion and decision.
But I have to set the record a little straighter here, too. I don’t sense her there, hands on my shoulders or giving me any indication that she’s looking out for me or helping. That’s not the case. On a couple occasions, when I’ve gotten particularly frustrated – a financial crisis comes to mind when I looked up in the air and shouted, alone, “it would be nice if you could help me figure out what the hell to do!” It’s one time an answer came, that day, in the mail and we got a settlement check for unpaid overtime. It got us over the hump and we were okay.
But my son looked at me and asked “what did you mean, you thought I meant something else?” He obviously didn’t understand why I didn’t see his literal question – when was the last time I saw his Mom?
“I thought you meant did I see here around us, here in the house.”
“Well . . . do you?” It was a sincere question. I had set myself up for it, too.
“Well . . . no. I don’t think I’ve ever felt your Mom here, with me. That doesn’t mean she isn’t or that you don’t. If you do, that makes me happy.”
“Sometimes,” he tells me, “I think she is.”
I look at him and tell him what I know to be absolutely true:
“But all the time, kiddo, I see her in you. You smile, or laugh, or roll your eyes at me when I do something silly . . . when you dance around the room acting goofy or when you get nervous and giggle . . . those are all little pieces of your Mom.”
He smiled and headed off to read a book.
But it wasn’t a statement to placate him, either. It’s very true. Pieces of her are there . . . in all four of them. It’s not her, no. These are the pieces of her, mixed with me, creating these insane, smart and funny little creatures that are my kids. They are still their own people. But Andrea peeks through, once in awhile. Sometimes . . . that’s just enough.