Hello friends and followers and new visitors! Today’s post is a little longer than usual, but it’s a good one, I promise you.
So yesterday, I had a real life “Humans of New York” moment at the park yesterday.
Me and my stuff had taken over a park bench and an old man, came over and apologized to me because “my hip won’t let me take another step” and asked if he could sit down. Of course, I made room for him and, you know me, I almost immediately started chatting. As we sat there, with the sun bouncing off his aviator glasses, I realized that this man was old but not cold. He wore jeans, which surprised me, a very stylish combination of a sweater, collared shirt and t-shirt and, another surprise, canvas shoes. He had a British accent, which I liked.
We talked about the weather at first, remarking at how warm it was and how lucky we are to live in Vancouver. He said he had lived in Montreal for years and does not miss the snow. Many families made up of various components passed by as we sat there – dads, moms, children, dogs, scooters, bikes, skateboards – all out, making the most of the weather. I said, “Well, it’s a nice day to come to the park, anyway.” Then he started his confession:
“I lost my wife about a year ago and we would come here all the time. When I come here now, I come to think about her. We started courting when I was 17 years old and I’ll be 85 this year. It’s been hard without her.”
As I sat there listening to this stranger’s story, my heart squeezed a little bit. I know the sound of grief when I hear it. I know what it feels to reach a point where you are forced to contemplate a life you’re not ready for but got started anyway. Like a new diet, you continue to put it off, but you it’s something you’ll eventually have to do.
He went on to tell me about how good of a dancer she was and that everyone loved to watch them dance at the jazz club. “We never even had to talk about it. She was such a good dancer, we didn’t have to even discuss what we were going to do. It came so naturally to us.” To that I mumbled thoughtfully, “It’s because you were the same person.”
Anyone who has ever grieved deeply comes to a point where they just need to talk about the person. They need to keep the loss at bay. There is a need to bring the memory back and talk casually as if the person was at home or just stepped out for a minute. For as long as they are talked about, they are still real. I got it. I understood and it’s painful and it’s devastating, but that’s how the memories never fade. Because, I knew that, I let him talk. I let him tell me about how hard it is for him now, I let him tell me about how lovely she was. I let him confess to me that he wakes up from a nap in his chair and still expects her to be across the room on the sofa. I offered him a banana to which he declined because it doesn’t agree with him and he forgets which pills to take to help him digest “what’s the name of that thing bananas are full of again?” I replied, “Potassium.” I let him tell me that he forgets what he goes to the grocery store for and that the sweater he’s wearing is one that his wife bought him. I let him unload to me. I interspersed his story with snippets from my own story.
I told him about how years after my Mum had died, I called her cell phone, hoping against hope that she might actually answer and that she really wasn’t gone. I told him that when I got divorced, I didn’t know how to be or what to do or who I was and that I had just been recovering from that when I had to redefine myself again as a motherless child. I told him that grief is not something to “get over” despite what everybody says. It’s a condition that you learn to live with and don’t make anyone make you feel like you should be cured.
So here we were, two strangers on a park bench. Everybody around us was laughing, enjoying the unexpected warm February sunshine with their loved ones and here we were visiting our lost loved ones through stories and sharing. I wanted to hug him and tell him it gets better, but I couldn’t because it doesn’t. We connected in a wordless way, despite the many words we had exchanged. Both our lives touched in those moments.
He eventually got up and said he wanted to continue his walk. I told him not to run. He laughed and said, “Those days are long gone. I couldn’t even if I wanted to.” As he walked off, I noticed that he was hunched over and he walked with a limp, looking like all those old men whose body had betrayed them in the sunset years of their lives.
I sat there for a while and let what had just happened to me sink in. Later on, he walked past and said to me, “Goodbye love. I’m on my way back.” I looked into his glasses, held his hand and said, “It was wonderful to have met you,” and he said it back to me and he slowly walked away.