It was Easter Sunday 1984 right before noon. We were getting ready to go to 12:30 mass at our parish, St Brendan. He reached up into a kitchen cabinet for a pack of Salem menthols. And he collapsed. His body turned to the left and he landed on his back. Eyes open. Pupils fixed and dilated. No respiration. No pulse. CPR. Frantic calls to 911. My brothers running to neighbors homes for help. One neighbor doing chest compressions while I did mouth to mouth. 13 minutes. It took them 13 minutes to get there. It was only a 7 minute drive but there was church traffic. Our life changed forever in 13 minutes. He was dead when he hit the ground they said.
This week a woman in our town died of cancer. She leaves behind 12 year old twins. Her death made a profound impact on my son because, though I never had the blessing of meeting her, my son did. I was a few minutes late getting him from soccer practice and he walked up to the concession stand with his buddies. They all got stuff; my son had no money. “She just gave me a Bosco cheese stick like all the other kids, Mom. She never asked for money or an explanation. When I started to say my mom is lay…She said “Hi. I’m their mom. She was kind and beautiful Mom. I’ll never forget her”. I believe him.
“He always was nice to me.
Remember when he taught us to dance the waltz in your kitchen?
I’ll never forget him.
It’s 4/22. I’m think of you today.
He would be proud. He would be so proud of you.”
Losing a parent as a kid is a really shitty club to belong to. You know exactly how the drill goes. The memories, flashbacks, the empty place in what must be your soul. You’re different now. “Hey, that’s the girl whose dad died. The boy whose mom died. That’s the family…” Going back to school you realize I was someone else just two Monday’s ago. Who am I now? How do I belong?
And when it’s been 32 years and you’re 48 years old and you hear the same type of news you’re suddenly 16 again as the memories flood back.
But you’re not. You’re different now.
Now you are living proof that you will survive. That people are remembered by their kindness and you can say with fervor and certitude, speaking only your truth, that you will, do, must survive. You are their/his/ her legacy and you will be ok.
One day it will be your turn to look at someone and say, “I know. I was you once. It sucks. I’m sorry. I grieve with you and wish no kid would ever have to live through this. But I’m here and you will be here too. Aren’t you lucky you were his/hers? How blessed are you to love so much and have been loved so well.”
This is why. Because it’s not one parent. It’s one parent hundreds of times.