“Your mom died?” she asked, selecting a handful of crayons. “I will make you a new mom.”
The hours of my days seem to be sucked into a vortex of busy-ness. I begrudge nobody, but there are times—whole hours, whole days when I want to raise my hands, palms-out and stop it all.
I want to say, in the kindest way imaginable, “please just let me breathe. Let me grieve my loss. Let me absorb the continuous blows that, maybe a year ago, would have killed me but which I now accept as my daily bread. Permit me to abandon all pretense of grace and ease and charm just long enough to be the selfish beast that I am right now, the bottomless pit of need, a motherless child facing down the future.
It’s not pretty, but it’s real. Right now, it’s real.
On a recent night at work, though, I had a moment. It was the kind of moment that reminds me that life is still out there, bustling with promise and energy and goodness.
After a very long day, I sat down to talk to a little girl who is a regular guest at the dinners I cook on Wednesday nights. She comes with her mother and her grandmother, and when her brothers head to Childrens’ Choir rehearsals she stays at one of the round tables and colors with her “Grammy.”
It’s clear that she has an impairment of some kind. Although I was never sure what it was, and whether it was organic or traumatic in origin. It didn’t seem polite to ask her mother or her grandmother. I had started a Wednesday pattern of hanging out with her for a while, watching her find Waldo, or tell me about what she was drawing.
She has the gentlest little voice, and radiates a kind of Buddha-like acceptance of everything around her. Ten minutes with her soothed the beast within me.
That night, as the three of us talked, her grandmother volunteered the information that the girl had suffered a brain tumor, and that the treatment had severely diminished her brain functioning. As the older woman talked, I noticed that the child was drawing a rainbow with the colors in their proper “ROYGBIV” order. “How does she know that?” I asked, pointing at a rainbow-covered sheet.
“It’s something she remembers,” her grandmother explained. “When you lose parts of your brain, it’s hard to predict what will work afterwards.” The girl looked up from her drawing, focusing her huge, dark brown eyes on mine.
“Do you have a mom and dad?” she asked. I hesitated. I didn’t want to upset her, but it would be odd to say that I just had a father without explaining the reason. I looked to her grandmother for guidance. She knew I had recently lost my mother.
“You can tell her,” she said. “It’s very important to her that everybody has a mom and dad. We aren’t sure why.”
“I have a dad,” I told her, “but I don’t have a mom anymore. She died.”
“Your mom died?” she said, selecting a handful of crayons. “I will make you a new mom.” She started to draw. “Eyes,” she said, drawing two circles, “and legs,” she continued, adding arms and hair and other necessary mom parts. She was calm and workmanlike, as if it was no big thing to fill a gaping hole in someone’s life. When she was satisfied, she looked up at me.
“Is it okay if I take it with me?” I asked. She nodded.
“I made you a new mom” she said. I nodded again.
“Can you write your name on it so I remember who made it for me?” She nodded again. She formed shapes on the paper, in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Well, as close as she could come with the crayons at her disposal.
“Thank you” I said. She was on to more rainbows, and didn’t look up.
And there are a million corny things I could say to end this—things about the triumph of the spirit, or counting my blessings, or the mouths of babes. I could say things that might make me gag a little, things that might diminish the power of that moment, a moment of true grace, healing and joy.
But I won’t. You get it, right?
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Ed: Catherine Monkman