The Old Pink Bathrobe
A man died not long ago in our town. He jumped off a bridge and he left a wife and three sons behind; shocked, gutted and trying to square this act with the man they knew.
This event stunned and silenced us all. The very finality of it, the public nature, the shame and the many questions that must still float unanswered in the minds of the loved ones. And always the hardest… what if? could I have? I imagine that one will take a long time to work through.
This news caused us all to pause in our tracks and, as sudden loss does, to feel around the edges of our own mortality.
The day after the funeral I was driving my daughter to school in my trademark pajamas and bathrobe. She had known the sons peripherally, not well. They were good kids by all accounts. Sitting next to her in the car it suddenly, viscerally, flooded through me that these boys’ Dad would not be present to watch them graduate, choose a mate, give them career advice, and bounce grandchildren on his knee. It was suddenly, overwhelmingly sad, as we drove down the road by the high school, the early morning sun dappling the windshield.
“Did a lot of kids go to the funeral?” I asked.
“Yeah. There were tons of boys with ties on in school yesterday.”
“Oh.” That was a sobering image, all of these “little men” in high school going to support their friends at a very terrible and grown up passage in their lives.
“It’s so sad,” I whispered and I felt my eyes fill with tears and my voice get thick and ropey.
My daughter looked at me intently. My kids have seen me cry—but not much. I’m not opposed to it. It’s just that I pick my moments.
I cried for this family, this mother, whom I knew only peripherally. I cried for us, for what our family would have looked like had my husband not recovered from his critical injury. I cried for us now — lucky– unerringly lucky and without any explanation for why some skate through and others don’t. I cried because mostly I couldn’t stop.
“Mom?” my daughter said now, looking fully at me. It makes my kids nervous when I cry.
“Honey?” My voice was still breaking. “I want you to always be able to take care of yourself. I want you to study hard and get a good education and get a great job and be able to support yourself and your kids. No matter what happens.” My words flooded out of me, tripping on themselves.
“You can’t count on anyone in this life. Things happen that are out of your control and I always want you to be able to take care of your own. Promise?”
She was looking at me like I was crazy now. The pajamas, the uncombed hair, the tears. She was uncomfortable, unsure how to react. Was I losing it?
“I’m OK,” I said with a quick smile to show her that the real me was still in there. “I just want you to be able to count on yourself.”
It was a harsh message for 7:30 am. And from what place did that spring? From fear or experience or all of the above? My parents were still married, my husband and I had a firm bond that she could witness every day. My Dad had made enough to keep them comfortable in old age. My husband was back at work after his devastating injury, bringing home the bacon. Sure, there were examples of people we knew where life hadn’t worked out so well, but we were intact. Our family had bounced back.
I pulled up to the curb where all the other parents were letting their kids out. I waved to Jimmy the crossing guard and made my signature funny face and thumbs up at him.
“I love you honey,” I said squeezing her leg.” I knew better than to lean in or go above the belt. This was “no touch” territory. You didn’t go getting public kisses and hugs at this age around here.
I felt foolish and spent. I wasn’t sure where all of that emotional sincerity had just sprung from.
“I love you too Mom,” she said. And right there on the curb, she leaned in for a public hug on the worn shoulder of my pink polka dotted bathrobe.