The room swelled with people, some talking and hugging, others laughing and shoving deli meat sandwiches in their mouths. It was a party, except the guest of honor was dead.
We were at our friends’ Aiden and Alyssa’s house to pay a Shiva call for Aiden’s mother who had just passed. A year and half ago, she had been diagnosed with a blood melanoma. Until recently, she had not shown any real symptoms or signs of being sick. The doctors said that it was treatable and until the other day, it had been. She was there in the morning when they drove to the hospital, but 12 hours later driving back, she was gone. Just like that.
At the house, we chatted amiably with many people, about many things, but only very briefly touched upon the reason we were there. Aiden held it together admirably and everyone was relieved to follow suit and pretend. There’s nothing about death and final goodbyes that doesn’t create instant discomfort and clueless awkwardness for those bearing witness. So we ate little cookies and ignored the elephant in the room, or in this case, the small, sweet blonde mother and grandmother who wasn’t.
Now that I’m over 40, I keep running into this problem in life; it’s called death, and no matter how I try, there’s no getting away from it. It seems, and I never actually realized this until my late 30’s, but people die. Yes! I know. I was shocked as well. Of course, I know people die. I’m not an idiot. Lucille Ball is obviously no longer with us, or Dick Clark or Patrick Swayze or Farrah Fawcett, but somehow, when people I knew actually died, it totally threw me for a loop. Not just grandparents, but friends. Young people who were supposed to have their whole lives ahead of them, apparently, did not. They died of unnatural causes at unnatural ages. And now I seem to be at the age where parents start dying. I am not happy with this!
When I got home that evening, I gave my mom who was babysitting, an extra hug and ran up to do the same to my boys. They were almost ready for bed, and by almost I mean, jumping around in their underwear giggling like hyenas. I corralled them all into bed and Michael, my middle child, pushed a book in my hand. “Read this, Mommy.”
“Of course.” I said automatically, but when I looked down I wished I hadn’t.
“Love You Forever” by Robery Munsch. My book nemesis. Someone had given me this book when my oldest was born and I cried like a baby from beginning to end. Back then, I blamed my hormones and new-mom status, but returning to the book two years later, the same thing happened. A few years after that, I tried again, and still could not make it through without breaking down. I have successfully avoided reading the book for over three years, and tonight, fresh from a Shiva call, it was in my hands again. “Baby, let’s read something different.” I tried.
“This is the book that makes you cry, right?” Michael taunted, his elfin face smiling mischievously.
How did the little rat know that? “Maybe.” I said defensively. “But I just think you should pick something else. It’s a baby book.”
“I want to see if you cry.”
Oh, a challenge. Bring it on. “Fine.” I agreed, secretly steeling myself. I knew exactly what this book was and I was prepared. I could make it through I told myself and started reading.
I barely began, and I knew it was over. Tears rolled down my face and my voice quivered as I read the poem that threaded through the story of a mother’s never-ending love, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living, My baby you’ll be.” My extremely sensitive children cracked up laughing as I struggled to finish. By the end, I was a complete mess. My boys loved it. “Again!” they all squealed as I tried to control my heaving.
Exhausted from my emotional evening, I tucked the boys in; snuggling a little longer and hugging a little tighter. The book’s poem played over and over in my mind; its theme penetrating every sappy bone in my body. Even thinking about it now with the book safely tucked away in between a hundred others, hopefully never to be pulled out again, I can feel the tears in me rise. From the moment they are born, our babies are everything. Even when they grow and go, a mother’s heart goes with them, but there’s only so far it can go. Poor Aiden. Poor Aiden’s mommy. Poor everyone.
Damn. I hate that book.