One of my favorite things is to grab a meal and take in a restaurant atmosphere. On this particular day, I was reminded that all of us have a universal connection — the aftermath associated with the passing a loved one.
Breakfast With A Stranger
As I ordered my meal, an older gentleman sat next to me at the booth. He appeared to be a regular at the diner — I was too but hadn’t seen him before. While waiting for my food, I couldn’t help but overhear his dialogue with one of the waitresses. He mentioned to her that he was still in shock about losing his wife that past January. While his children were supportive and mourning alongside him, his mourning was “pain” (in his words), seeing that he and her had been together for 60 years — before children, before marriage, with children and then leaving the nest.
As the waitress left to service other patrons, I offered my condolences as we began to talk. His stories of yesteryear — from growing up in a time when electricity was a privilege, being 1 of 9 children to working class parents, where he and his siblings shared a room and learned valuable lessons as part of a blue collar upbringing reminded me of my father’s childhood stories. He commented that from these humbling experiences, he learned to appreciate the small things in life and valued the mantra of hard work & commitment. We both chuckled as he retold a instance when one of his two sons, who is twice divorced offered words to soothe him to which he exclaimed, “He doesn’t have a damn clue what commitment is!”.
The Grim Reaper Complex
I don’t mind it as much, but sometimes it feels taboo to talk about mortality. Losing my mother struck a chord not only with my immediate family, but throughout everyone who she touched. I was told by a friend that in these situations, people are unsure of what to say or become preoccupied with experiencing the same loss one day. Me and the man jokingly acknowledged this “Grim Reaper” complex we’ve seemed to acquire from our losses. When losing a loved one others can assume that not talking about it helps you. I can’t agree with that because in my experience, talking about it has help soothe the sorrow and emotions tied to the loss.
Making Due With Gratitude
My mother fell ill and went to the hospital that same January. As her diagnosis became aggressive and required another trip to the hospital, she succumbed in early April surrounded by family and friends. It is still a tough situation to process — I went from talking to her on Monday at my parents to getting my last kiss on the cheek that Friday.
Even then, I don’t think that mourning is entirely a sad occasion. It is a reflection of your relationship with your loved one — the good, bad and ugly. At her service, I offered a story and raw insight from her sudden passing. I strongly urged everyone to establish an adult relationship with their parents. Taking it deeper than “mom” and “dad” — learning about the people behind the title goes a long way to understanding who you are. It serves as an olive branch of understanding for each reason you vouch to “never be like my mom/dad” or things you admire about them. As I veered into my own as an adult I learned more about Juanita, a girl who grew up in Cleveland, loved the Gap Band, liked to dance and once considered being a police officer.
As creatures of habit, we work with a set of learned behaviors until an external force makes us reassess them. Over the years my mother and I had different stages of our relationship — I went from being her “baby boy”, to a teenager, to a man and now as a parent. Each stage had it’s funny moments, disagreements and learning experiences for both of us. As me and my siblings seeked our independence from my parents in our later years, we each have our own story of those moments. I greatly appreciate my mother’s candidness (and just the same my pops, my brother and sister) that as terrified as she was (tears and all) when I moved to Hollywood to jump start my career, she came to and embraced my desire to explore — even if we fussed back and forth over the phone every once in a while:
Her: You sure you don’t want to come back? What you eat today?
Her: You sure? They hiring at Radio Shack…
Me: C’mon Ma….
Her: Okaaaaay. 😘
That experience (spoken more in depth here) was a milestone moment in our relationship — it put me into adulthood as I learned how to become an independent thinker. When I think about my mother, I think about the humorous stories, our experiences, her quotables and her “check yaself for ya wreck yaself” demeanor. She was a sweetheart but she certainly wasn’t naive. I am grateful to have been able to make peace with her offerings as one adult to another and as my mother.
As the gentlemen sitting next to me said, it can be hard to figure what to do with yourself after such a loss. Some days are good, some days are dim but he cherished the opportunity to have such experiences. We continued eating our meals and swapping stories in between bites. We spent a good while talking and after finishing my 6th refill of Strawberry Lemonade, I said goodbye and parted ways.
A chance dialogue between us allowed for two strangers with an age gap of 50+ years, few commonalities aside from being at the same diner to chat and enjoy a meal as if we’d know each other for years.