There’s an extroverted young guy that works at a certain fast food establishment’s drive-thru window. Every so often I buzz through and, if he’s working and it’s slow, we have a little chit-chat.
Awhile back he told me about his mother having passed, a fact that I missed even though he lives near me and I used to talk to her on occasion when we first moved to San Antonio. Cancer, if memory serves. I felt pretty bad about it when he told me because, had I known, I’d have done something. It was jarring news, and I felt that somehow I’d failed as a neighbor to pay attention, to notice, to care.
Anyway, this morning he was working and it was slow and so, embracing my own current liminal phase of grief, I boldly brought that earlier conversation up.
“Hey, I know I haven’t seen you in awhile,” I said, “but I think of your loss and you and your Mom every time I pass your house.”
He seemed a little surprised and then smiled broadly.
“Yeah! Wow. That’s so nice that, I dunno, that you actually cared enough to remember.”
“My own mom died, in August. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not the same! Very different situation. She was elderly and I had her a lot longer than you had your mom–”
He waves his hands to dismiss the time difference. It’s as if our grief is complete and common enough, the particulars of who had their mother the longest in this life rendered irrelevant by his graceful moves.
Then he leaned on his forearms on the window frame and said warmly “I’m so very sorry.”
“I’m okay. It’s okay. It’s just, you know. Well, you DO know.”
He leaned back his head and chuckled.
“Do I ever! It’s just so weird, right? I mean, you get used to it. I promise. And it’s going to get better. But at first it’s just, it’s just… well, you know what I’m saying?”
“I do. I really do,” I said, nodding. “And it’s like we don’t talk about it culturally. Not really. We just go through it and then people that have been through it are ‘YES! I so get it!’ Like we’re all in this club that ‘knows’ stuff and give each other the sage nod.”
“Exactly. It’s like there’s this taboo around your mother dying. It’s life. And it happens. Hey, you need to know that people are going to reach out and they say these things, these comforting things and you think ‘Okay, sure. I’ll just nod and be nice but, man, this is crazy.'”
“Yeah, it’s just cultural programming, the words. Everyone means well. I just take it and smile.”
“Right. They do mean well, they do. But, whoa, you know? You accept it and you just know that what you’re feeling is just different than what they say. And you’ve got these memories and these feelings. But, trust me, it’s going to get better. You’re going to feel better. It’s going to take a long time and that ache is gonna be there. But, yes, ma’am, better. You’re going to get through it. I promise. It’s still early for you, but things are going to get better.”
Then he smiled again. It was warm and bright, like morning sunlight.
His mother must be so proud of him.