|Chris and me|
This picture was taken one summer long ago when I was visiting my sister in Michigan; I recognize her back yard, but I've got no clue as to why we were both there. I suspect that Norma Jean's husband Pete took the picture. I scanned it with my phone, which is why the picture is not very high quality; however, I think it fits my mood for the day. I spent yesterday going through old pictures, and one batch I hadn't been ready to look at since I put them there in 2002: the ones I took to Germany to share with Chris' friends and family for his funeral.
I hadn't seen Chris for a couple of years when he died suddenly of cardiac arrest while jogging. He had just finished his daily PT when he was granted permission to try to run a little faster. He fell over and by the time his fellow soldiers reached him, they were unable to revive him. He was gone. Although I hadn't seen Chris for awhile, we wrote to each other in email regularly, and he had recently quit smoking and was struggling to keep his weight down. Yesterday I ran across the last email exchange we had, which was also in with that batch of pictures.
So yes, it's true that I am mired down in memories this morning. Every time I woke during the night, I would think about Chris and the times we spent together at various junctures in our lives. Chris lived in Boulder before he went off to join the Army in 1993. Although he was over thirty, the cutoff date when the Army would still accept him was fast approaching, so off he went to start a new life. He thrived in the Army, which made me realize that he really needed the discipline and structure it provided him.
While he was stationed in Germany, he met and married a young German woman with a son from a previous marriage. Chris always seemed to get involved with women who had children, but he never fathered any himself. I think he would have loved to be a father and would have been a good one, but for whatever reason it never happened.
Of course, that also means that I am not a grandmother and never will be. I'll never know that experience, but I really enjoy getting to know the grandchildren of my blogging friends, and of course there's my sister Norma Jean's two grandchildren, who are my grand-nieces. And there's Leo from the coffee shop, who is now seven but has been a constant joy to me for more than six years. Now that he is growing up, he doesn't spend as much time with me in the coffee shop, but I still see him several times a week, when his father brings him in for breakfast before taking him to school.
I remember when Chris started kindergarten. I prepared his lunch for him, and the school bus came down our street to gather up the children. So different from these days when parents take their kids to school, I had to let him wait for the school bus and catch it himself. I cried but tried to be brave for him. He was starting out into the unknown, without me. We had been through so much together, and I was divorced from his father at that time and had remarried. We lived in Don's house when he caught that first school bus. It's a traumatic memory for me, but I don't think it was for him. He enjoyed school but was not an outstanding student. He learned all that he needed to in school but never picked up a book and read it just for enjoyment. In fact, while he was growing up I would read to him when he was little, but he had little patience for it once he grew a little older. He was a typical boy who loved to be outdoors.
Over the years, we went through a lot together, but once he reached adulthood we were more like friends than family. He would not tolerate me telling him how to live his life, and in order to keep him around, I'd look the other way when he made choices I felt uncomfortable with. I would agonize over jobs he lost but would rarely be told the reason. I was always very glad when he was happy with his life, and I was pleased for him when we went off to join the Army.
I had never met his wife Silvia before I went to Germany for the funeral. She is a very nice person, but her English was not very good and she was always unwilling to talk with me on the phone when I spoke to Chris. She and I grew familiar with one another during that awful week I spent there. I never felt any real connection to her, other than through Chris, and he was now gone. We grieved over his loss together, cried together, and then I got on the plane and returned to my life in Boulder.
But it was never the same after that. For many months I couldn't sleep very well and would wake with nightmares, always seeing Chris' body in his dress uniform in the coffin. Silvia wanted him buried and my wishes were not taken into account. It was horrible watching the coffin placed into the ground. If it had been left to me, his body would have been cremated, but it was not my decision.
I think in many ways the fact that as his mother I was no longer considered to be his closest relative was hardest for me to bear. As I look back on those days, I again feel the pain I experienced then, and I realize it's one of the reasons I don't do it very often. But in honor of my son, I am doing it today.
One night long ago, after Chris had been gone for awhile, I had a very vivid dream. So vivid that just thinking about it now it seems like a memory from an actual experience. Chris and a friend Franz, who died in an avalanche, were walking towards me on a garden path, with the sun shining brightly on them, birds singing, just a lovely scene. Chris was waving to me, smiling, and he told me not to worry, he is just fine and happy. Franz smiled at me too, and put his hand on Chris' shoulder and raised his other in companionship, much the way mine is raised in the picture above. I woke from that dream with tears on my face, tears of happiness as well as loss. It comforts me still to this day.
Now that I am in the winter of my own life, having outlived both of my sons, my parents, numerous friends and family, I realize that the pain of all that loss is simply no longer there. It's not that I don't still miss them, but I remember them with love. Although the imprint of the pain is still present and can be revived, I'm not sure what purpose it serves. All our lives we have the ability to make choices about how we proceed from one day to the next, but as time goes by, it seems easier for me to remember the love and the joy we shared, rather than the pain and suffering that goes along with living.
And now I have reached that place that happens every Sunday after I finished writing this post. Partner is still asleep, tea finished and the laptop warming my knees as I sit propped up in bed, and I am thinking of Mother's Day all over the world and thinking about the different ways we will celebrate it. I'll dress and head to the coffee shop and sit with my friends and we'll enjoy each other's company along with the coffee. And I take this moment to be grateful for all the people who have mothered me in various ways, and give thanks for them.
Be well until we meet again next week. I am feeling quite content now, after having relived my own mothering years, and feeling glad to be alive. If I could offer you anything, it would be to find some way to mother yourself today. Until next time.