Today I was walking to the library to pick up some stuff I had on reserve when suddenly I thought I saw my mom. Long-time readers may find this odd since my mom died three years ago, which is exactly why I found it so strange and stopped in my tracks on Michigan Avenue. It’s a good thing I wasn’t crossing a street.
Every once in a while I’ll see someone who looks like her, and it’s the strangest feeling. It’s only happened a handful of times, but I remember each one vividly because it just absolutely knocks the wind out of me. Standing in line at a Marshall’s in Columbus, eating dinner with Brandon at an Applebee’s in Zanesville, and suddenly it happens. It’s such a surreal roller coaster of raw emotions that plays out in milliseconds, where in an instant I am altogether shocked, elated and utterly devastated.
Usually it’s a middle-aged woman with short hair and hoop earrings, maybe wearing a blue jacket like hers. This time it was a tourist with a small, red leather backpack and a sweater tied around her waist, walking into a store on the Magnificent Mile. I almost made a move as if to follow her inside, kind of like when you think you see someone you know but it turns out it’s someone else and you laugh at yourself for almost running up to say hi. Except sadder.
Even though it really messes with my head when it happens, it’s not entirely unwelcome. For the longest time after my mom died, I never dreamed about her. My dad did, and I burned with envy as he recounted dreams of long conversations with her. When I finally did dream about her, months after, she never said a word. Sometimes she would have a new family, sometimes she was sick. Often she was sick. I’d usually forget in the dream that she was dead and waking up from that felt a little like losing her all over again, on a very small scale. It could really ruin your day.
When I started going to grief counseling, I began dreaming about her almost every other week. I knew talking about her was causing it, but she was showing up sick less and less frequently. I’d dream about the first summer I worked at the hotel, and packing my lunch in the morning with her in the kitchen getting ready to leave for the library. We’d say little of importance, but when I woke up, it seemed like nothing could ever be more important, and I’d struggle to remember every detail as they slipped away. It was still a jolt to realize I’d been dreaming but it was kind of like how my dad would describe seeing her — it was like she was visiting.
A couple of months ago she was there and at some point, something triggered in my brain that I was dreaming. I knew that she was still dead and not really there, yet I found myself begging for it not to be true. “Please let this NOT be a dream,” I said, convinced I could make it happen. And even though it obviously didn’t, having that kind of lucidity made me savor the moment more. Even if just for a little while.
It very rarely dawned on me in a meaningful way that my mom was a cancer survivor for 17 years. It was a thing that I knew, but the weight of it failed to impress upon me most of the time. My parents must have really downplayed the seriousness of her situation around me and my brother, which probably spared us some trauma and/or years of therapy. I remember I found her wig once, years after she went into remission, stowed away in the upstairs bathroom closet. When she casually told me what it was, that actually got through to me. I should’ve been more grateful more often for the time she was mysteriously granted, but it’s hard to convey that to a four-year-old, I guess.
This week one of my editors asked me to cover a cancer survivors celebration at a local hospital. I hate to say it, but I had to think about it for a couple days. I’m not bitter, I’m just unsure of how I’m going to act there. But I’ll be there regardless. I might be sorry I went but it’d be a shame to be too afraid to go because of how I might feel afterward. Especially when that’s nothing compared to what the people they’ll be recognizing have been through. So, remember me on Sunday afternoon if you think of it.
…Happy Friday! Right? You’re welcome.
Hope everyone has a good weekend.