“If something happened to me, would you be alright?”
We were headed somewhere in the van, and I was driving. I remember putting my hand on his leg as I answered emphatically, “No. I would definitely not be alright if something happened to you.”
We occasionally played this game, similar to the one where we asked each other if we would remarry after one of us died. It was usually a light-hearted banter, but this time David’s voice was insistent, and serious; “No, really, would you be okay?”
I glanced over at him and saw a look of fear in his eyes. My voice softened, “We have eight children. I’d be okay.”
Not for a minute did I believe what I was saying, but I instinctively knew it was what he needed to hear. He visibly relaxed.
The youngest of our eight children turned nine today, and I couldn’t help but feel the loss of David even more keenly.
“I’m not even happy about my birthday, without Dad,” Abby announced as she slowly opened the three packages that greeted her when she came downstairs. There was no fanfare like previous birthdays when Abby waited for an audience of siblings before opening her gifts.
“We’ll each have to face our first birthday without Dad,” I commiserated.
“I like this wrapping paper,” Abby pointed at the colorful print. For the first time in 32 years of purchasing children’s birthday gifts, I’d taken advantage of the service of free wrapping. Otherwise her gifts would have been wrapped in this morning’s Sunday comics like my grandson Jacob’s gifts a week ago.
“Watermelon is on sale this week,” my daughter Elizabeth had said on the phone a few days ago. “We just ate an entire watermelon and it only cost $2.90.”
“That sounds delicious. I love watermelon,” I responded.
“Then why don’t you buy some?” she asked then, and I told her the truth.
“Because I’d have to cut it up, and that would take too much energy.”
She laughed then, until she realized that I meant it, and why. Grieving is exhausting and the idea of cutting up an entire watermelon just seemed beyond my capabilities.
“Buy it and bring it down here. I’ll cut it up for you,” she offered.
Going to church has also seemed beyond my capabilities since David’s death. I go, but I’ve only made it through one Mass without crying and a couple of weeks ago, I had to leave after a blessing of the sick (Mentally or emotionally troubled as well as physical illness, the priest said). The priest had looked me directly in my eyes and put his hand over my folded hands after the blessing. His tenderness was just too much~ I had to leave immediately.
“Why do you torture yourself?” someone asked me. “Just don’t go to church.” But that doesn’t feel right either. And if I don’t face it now, I might never be able to. So there I was this morning, sitting in back with my daughters, ready to leave if the torrent of tears began.
Then God sent me babies.
A dark-haired pixie of no more than six or seven months entertained me for more than half the Mass. Her eyes lit on Emily next to me initially, and when Emily wouldn’t mimic her head nodding, her eyes went to me. She laughed in delight when I nodded my head in response. Before long her mouth formed a perfect “O” mimicking me, and then her eyebrows went up when Emily joined in our game. I was greatly disappointed when the little angel tired of church and her mother took her out. I dutifully concentrated on the service then, and the song the choir was singing. My heart ached when I spotted a man in the choir, standing behind his daughter. He alternately hugged her to him and played with her hair, things David used to do with Abby. Before the waterworks could begin, I heard a soft cooing of another baby in the pew ahead and to the right of me. The serious eyes of a little boy met mine, and I couldn’t help but smile. This baby reminded me of my Daniel when he was an infant. David liked to say that Danny had the wise soul of an old man as a baby, and I sensed the same thing with this little boy’s wide eyes. As the congregation clapped after a baptism was announced, a surprised look came over the little boy’s face, and then he smiled broadly, putting his own hands together. I imagined he thought the clapping was for him. I watched him the rest of the Mass, remembering my own babies and how they, too, had twisted and turned to observe everything that went on around them; curious and healthy babies with similar round faces and chubby arms and legs.
The young couple in front of me obscured my view of the elderly couple I usually noticed holding hands just like David and I had. David and I had known young love. We had known the particular joy of holding our own squirming babies. Eight babies, in fact.
I made it through an entire church service without crying today. I can thank the babies for that. The babies and three of my eight children in the pew next to me, that is.