By Chuck Woodbury
My office is in a bedroom on the second story of my home. The window faces the street. A young man, late 20s, just walked by talking loudly on his cell phone. “I’m sorry, Mom,” he said. “I just needed too vent.” That’s all I heard before I tuned him out. But I heard enough to make me feel sad — that I could not call my own mother.
She died 12 years ago, my sweet Ruthie. She was a kind, generous, happy person. She never said a bad thing about anybody. When presented with a problem, she just dealt with it and moved on. I’m like that, too, lucky me. Thanks, Mom!
My father always dominated family conversations, but when he was not around, she reminded me of a college girl — witty, playful, and incredibly funny. She was even goofy at times, a trait I inherited. My father was pretty stiff, so I know I got my goofiness from her.
Oh, I thought as I watched the young man walk by, what I would give to pick up my phone and call my mother. But I can’t, of course. Anyone who has lost a parent or other loved one knows the feeling.
I lost both my parents a few months apart. I already had my AARP card, so I was lucky to have spent many years with them. I read some books after they died about coping with the loss of parents. One book described children who had lost both their parents as “orphaned adults,” which I thought made sense.
When the books talked about grief, they said it often comes in waves. You don’t just deal with the loss and then, gradually the pain goes away. No, it’s not like that. You deal with it and, yes, the pain does diminish. Then one day, sometimes without warning, it returns. Like right now. The young man on the phone triggered it.
Four years ago Gail and I were in a coffee shop in Bennington, Vermont. It was an old-fashioned place, and the crowd was older — senior citizens mostly. It was a meat and mashed potatoes kinda place.
The strangest thing happened
An older couple came in and took a table across the room from us. I could not take my eyes off the woman. She was a dead ringer for my mother. She even held her fork in a slightly odd way, just like my mother.
I told Gail that I needed to introduce myself to her. And then I thought, no, I don’t want to bother her. But I kept staring. And staring. Our eyes met once. I worried that my staring was bothering her. I hoped she hadn’t noticed, but maybe she did.
Gail and I finished our dinner and walked to the counter to pay. But I could not leave without meeting the woman. I just couldn’t. So I walked to her table. “Excuse me,” I said, “but I wanted to tell you that you look so much like my mother that I couldn’t leave without telling you.” I told her my mother had died. The woman was very nice, but she just nodded her head, that was about it. Thinking back now, I believe I had hoped that she would have stood up and given me a big hug. Somehow I could have imagined for one brief moment that she was my Ruthie. I knew better, but one can hope.
Also, up close, the woman didn’t really resemble my mother as much as from a distance.
To this day, I feel a bit warm and fuzzy when I think of that evening. But I feel sad, too. I miss my mother as much today as when she left. Oh, what I would give for an hour with her. I have so much say. But then, I don’t know I would do much talking. I’d just want to hold her, like it would be forever.
I gotta stop. Getting too sad.