Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I've been thinking a lot about grief lately, as well as loss. There was a time I thought about it constantly, a time when my days were devoted to only one child and that one child was hurting so badly that he had to hurt others to work through it. Now that child uses words instead of fists, uses a real smile, and asks repeatedly to read and reread books on grief, anger, sorrow and relaxation. We got lucky with this one. He's a survivor, fully able to process and live with loss.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, let me restart by getting way behind myself...

Several years ago we moved to Raleigh. We went from a small 2 bedroom condo in a college town that my parents owned, to a medium sized 3 bedroom townhouse that we bought ourselves. It was near a busy road but the neighborhood was quiet and peaceful, and it seemed like the perfect place to settle down with our menagerie of pets and raise a small family for a few years, until we needed more space and moved on to something bigger.

Very soon after moving in I met our next door neighbor. Let's call her Lucy, though obviously that isn't her name. Lucy was married, had a pair of married roommates, and had one adorable baby boy. Lucy learned quickly that I'd worked in childcare previously and was not working currently. A smart woman, she put the two together and quickly asked me to take over watching her son during the Christmas rush at the store she owned, "just for a few weeks, a couple times a week, for a few hours max." She would pay me well and it would be convenient for both of us. She could even pay me in money, baby items, or both. And with us working on a baby (and with limited knowledge of Craigslist or consignment sales) it sounded like a deal.

So I made and agreement and went about my life, watching her son sporadically and talking to her frequently. Very frequently. In fact, it seemed that every time I went to walk my dog I'd come back to my house to find her on her front patio, smoking a cig and waving me over for a half hour's convo. My dog played with her dog, her son played outside, and we would talk for awhile.

Soon, though, this relationship started to go a bit sour. For starters, she began to rely on me constantly. She'd call from next door, near regularly, always needing someone to watch her son last minute, always at the same days/times every week. And I'd watch him because, well, I'm a bit of a pushover. Or was. My kids fixed that problem for me :)

Then the "few weeks" I was asked to watch her son suddenly started in October. The day after I got back from my honeymoon I was asked to go over her house and watch her kid for several hours. I had been hoping to unwind, or unpack, or sort wedding gifts, or even have a meal ready for my new husband when he got home. He got home around 5. I couldn't leave her house normally until 6 or so.

Over the next several weeks I became more and more bitter, spending more and more time at her house. A couple times a week turned into 3 or 4 days, and the few hours at a time turned into at least one 9 hour day where I got about $2/hr. Finally I "quit," giving her two weeks notice which she took seriously. She found someone to watch him but didn't switch him over to that person until my 2 weeks was up.

After that I rarely watched her son, but I did still have the odd conversation with her, or go out with them somewhere, or walk to the pool together, or something. We were there to talk to each other during our discovery of infertility and the whole adoption process for Paxton, where she was a reference. We were there to talk about her battle with cancer, her store having to move places twice, and her trying to quit cigarettes. Finally, just as many of the families in those suddenly tiny seeming townhomes did at the time, she moved. Her married roommates had already moved out and had their own son, and her new roommate was a sweetie who was fine with staying with them in a new house. The family bought a pretty suburban home, with a back yard for their son to run around in.

And not long after, Paxton came home.

I can't exactly describe what happened then, but I ended the relationship. Not smoothly, not abruptly or responsibly, but slowly and lazily and disrespectfully. From a couple years out I can't quite remember why. Perhaps it was because she had the exact opposite taste in movies as me. Perhaps it was because she so strongly reminded me of a girl in highschool who was rude to me. The fact that she said some very nasty things behind other's backs couldn't have helped, and some of the things she said straight to my face were, honestly, pretty big deal breakers.

And then there was that time when we first brought our new son to her store to meet her. He'd been home just a few weeks and bonding was... strained on my end. It truly took me about a year to bond with this child, something I regret but also something I feel I ought to be honest about.

When Lucy first met him, she got down on her knees, pulled him into her arms and started rocking him back and forth, whispering, "shhh, shhh, it's okay, you're safe now, you're all okay now."

And I was insulted. Who was he safe from, me? And if someone had to be this child's "savior" it was her? Huh? It confused my already befuddled son and left me feeling awful.

But I still went to her house for a playdate the following month. While there I somehow reaffirmed, in my mind, that I really didn't want to be friends with this woman any longer. Her son was, in my opinion, acting very spoiled and she had no problem with it. And she was too touchy feely with my son, grabbing him and putting him on a swing as he frightened body went limp. The kicker was when I looked away for a minute, looked back and found her smoking within several feet of my barely-2-year-old son, who was looking on in interest. She hadn't even asked me it if was okay. And she'd always asked me to hide it from her husband.

And that was it. I talked to her on a phone a couple more times but finally stopped answering when she called. And it was petty of me. She was, at heart, a funny, vivacious, loving and wonderful woman, and we probably could have talked anything out if I'd just had the guts to do so. As I've said, my kids helped me grow a backbone, and at this point I probably would've looked her in the eye the second I was offended by anything and told her so, and likely she would have listened, talked to me, and accepted my opinion. She wasn't unreasonable. I was just weak and shrinking and had so much trouble being around a strong personality, especially one that did things and said things I didn't like as I felt I had not counter.

The last phonecall I got from her was about 2 years ago. She left a message that sounded irate and simply said "Call me!"

I didn't call.

And looking through her husband's blog now...

About that time her cancer resurfaced. I don't know if she was calling me about that, or calling me because she just wanted to talk or what.

What I do know is that she died just over six months ago and I never called her back.

And I don't know what to feel, or how to feel, or even what I should feel. Obviously it's a bit on the late side to send condolences, though if I met her husband on the street I'd certainly offer them. The big problem is... I'm not sure how sad I feel. But I don't feel nothing. I don't feel distraught but then again my gut tightens at the thought of her, and boy have I been thinking about her lately, more in this past week than in the past couple years likely enough. I feel... cold. And... empty? At least when I think of her I do. And suddenly I feel like the bad times weren't so bad, the rude comments not so ill intended. I feel like the good times were fun, worth it, and should have pushed me to reconsider ending the friendship.

Mostly I just feel... lost. Lost as to what to think. And worried that she was trying to tell me about her cancer resurfacing but couldn't do it in a voicemail and just gave up on me, a friend who really wasn't, someone she wanted to keep up a relationship with who had cruelly and inexplicably cut her out of their life. And I feel a sense of shock. She was so strong the first time around... and her little boy, the same little boy I spent hours upon hours watching, who I rocked down for naps and fed and cuddled and rolled around with... his mom is gone. And I feel so, so sorry for him....

I think, even though we weren't friends recently, I think I'm grieving. I think perhaps I'm in the denial part. I keep thinking I see her car around town, keep thinking I heard her laugh. I'm not used to death. I'm a young American, death to me is something for the old or the third world. This... is new to me. And I'm not sure how to handle it. But I suppose I am.


I meant to write more, about my older son and the grief he's gone through, the losses he's experienced, and how that's been coming back to me more and more as Ambrose gets bigger. But since it's definitely past Ambrose's meal time I suppose I'll have to save that for another time.

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