Almost exactly three weeks after we lost my mother, my father and I were grabbing lunch one day, just the two of us. We’d decided to eat at a lovely little cafe not too far from where we’d been staying every night for these past few weeks; my grandmother’s house, overlooking the beach and the ocean.
There aren’t too many spots to choose from in the immediate area. This one has Chowder right in it’s name though, and if that’s not comforting, I don’t know what is. And the food is good, the people are friendly. I would end up going there on at least four occasions over this past summer.
It was a beautiful sunny day, as most had been for the last twenty days. That time of summer that’s supposed to be glorious, but we were walking around everywhere that we went with our sunglasses firmly in place, as if protecting our broken hearts and giving us the tiniest amount of anonymity. Even keeping them on inside sometimes.
I was sitting there with my dad, we were both quiet, lost in our thoughts. I was remembering being there in the past. We’d come here whenever visiting my grandmother as a family; my parents, Nana, me and my husband, one or both of our boys if they were with us.
Everything was different now. Everything had changed, yet it felt as if time was standing still. Nana was in an Enhanced Care nursing home, dementia having taken most of her away from us.
But at ninety-two and still with a few memories from before we knew her, we could hardly complain. She certainly wasn’t complaining. I hadn’t seen her at this point, but would go on to visit her with Dad later in the summer.
Mom though…her absence was glaring. All could not be right with the world, not today. None of us knew what to say to people, or how to act. We were afraid to laugh, lest people think we were terrible, or worse that we were fine.
Although at times we needed to laugh so badly; so that maybe it might feel like even just a little bit of us hadn’t died, too. So sometimes we did it. Let us be damned.
Something brought me out of my reverie. As an elderly gentleman was being ushered through the restaurant to a small table off the counter, he was chatting to a server. She was talking quieter than he was, but it was his words that had penetrated my thoughts. Then it hit me like cold water, was he was saying my mother’s name?
I heard him repeat it, he was asking the lady if she knew my mother by name, and he was reaching into his jacket or shirt pocket, I can’t remember exactly.
Alarmed, or shocked, or startled, I sat forward in my seat and quickly looked at my father. He hadn’t noticed any of this, I could tell.
“He’s saying Mom’s name”, I said to him urgently. He looked up at me quizzically, “What? Who?”
I began to realize what he had pulled out of his pocket as I watched him unfold a sizable piece of what was unmistakably newsprint. I went numb, knowing that it was her obituary. I nodded over toward them and said, “That man over there.”
My father had to be mightily confused, I was confused and still listening. I heard him say that she used to come into this cafe, with an elderly woman, for lunch quite often — my mother had brought my grandmother in for lunch nearly every second Wednesday after taking her to get her hair and banking done. My grandmother had loved the chowder, ordering it every single time.
As he was still talking and opening the newspaper clipping he’d begun to notice me, and started to focus on me. Just a week before I’d been stopped in the local grocery store by a man I’d never met who had known my mother since they were children, and thought that I had to be her daughter. He’d heard the painful news and wanted to offer me his condolences.
I couldn’t hear what the waitress was saying, but the man looked right at me with her obituary held in his hand and then so very uncharacteristically for me, I horrified myself by blurting out these words, “That’s my mother. That’s his wife,” nodding my head back toward my father.
The server blanched, she’d already spoken to my father earlier, without realizing this. She walked right over to Dad and asked him something to the effect of if it was true. I think she started to hug him, but I’d looked away back to the gentleman who’d started talking to me.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” he said. He went on to say that he remembered seeing her there many times with the other older lady. I told him that would have been my grandmother. It was a bit like an out-of-body experience, as if I was watching and hearing myself on autopilot. He actually chattered on for a bit about losing many of the very friends who’d often gotten together in this very place. I was nodding as he spoke.
Then the waitress came back to him, she’d finished offering her sympathies to my dad. And I, too, returned…to my body, and kept eating my lunch for a few minutes. I don’t remember talking much after that until some people we have known for many decades came in for lunch.
Of course they all knew about mom, and they came right over to speak to Dad and me. It was like that nearly everywhere we went, I could hardly believe that we might be getting used to it.
When we finished we settled up our bill, said our goodbyes and drove up to that aforementioned grocery store. On the way inside I said to Dad, “I’m sorry about that, saying that like I did at the restaurant.”
“That’s okay, Rain,” he said quietly. I think that we were both unnerved, or something.
Eventually it occurred to me that I had not asked the elderly gentleman why he was carrying my mother’s obituary with him that day. I wish that I had.