My Mother died a little over a year ago, so this will be my 41st Mother’s Day, and my first one without her.
We’ve all lost someone: a Mom, a brother, a friend; that’s the way of the world. So we all know the excruciating loneliness of the calls that aren’t coming, the happy memory that can fill you with effortless pride and bitter anger at the same time. The guilt at what we didn’t say, didn’t do, or the photos we didn’t take.
We usually meet these things from a distance when we’re too young to lose people ourselves, so we feel them in waves of loss around us. As we get older, there are fewer surprises in loss except when it happens to you, and what you find along the way that you never heard mentioned.
The long road of loss becomes familiar as we get older, so I try to be open to the surprises, to let them happen, and not be afraid of them or avoid them. They’re a way to look backward and forward at the same time, they’re both learning about and remembering who you’ve lost. They’re a rest stop on the endless road.
Last week my wife Heidi and I were playing cribbage and listening to the Red Sox on a radio so old we had to turn it up to the highest volume just to hear it. Joe Castiglione started calling Sox games 36 years ago, when I was four. Before every game was televised, and even on the weekends when we could watch them on TV38, our house was a radio broadcast house. My mom, ironing and listening to Joe and Ken, falling asleep to the games, turning up the radio to hear it when she worked outside in the garden. I’ve heard his voice a thousand times, in the foreground and background, and my Mom is nearby for most of them. When we were reading her last wishes, it was right there in her handwriting. She left me her collection of baseball books, including the pride of her collection, one signed by Joe himself.
Then I paused as the game came back to the foreground, and I heard Joe make an errant comment, one of the millions he’s said over 5,000 games when you both need to fill the air and want to paint a picture of the action for your listeners, as they’re sitting playing cards or ironing.
“Rodriguez, pitching in the shirtsleeves tonight.”
Here was one of those surprises, one that sent my surroundings backward into infinity, that cut across time and took me off the road and onto a rest stop. While that single random phrase is one I’ve heard many times across many games, enough for it to be familiar, it surprised me how quickly I was transported. I was inside a small house on a Friday night in spring with the windows open, sitting at a campground, riding in the backseat. Listening to an announcer paint the story of the game, with my Mom nearby, or far away but at least available for a call.
I was with my Mom, and not just with her habit of listening to the radio. I was with her innocence, her natural and unaffected embrace of habits and small joys. The attitude that she used to make the most of her time here. What we do in the long light of summers when we don’t think we’re doing anything.
I don’t know if she would ever have sat me down to tell me this. It just became true over time, enough to come back through a single sentence, one of a million, from between the crackling of an old radio on a clear night.
I wouldn’t have come across it if I wasn’t open to the surprises.
Many of the things we think we learn from observing loss end up being at least little bit wrong, and the deals we make we can’t always follow through on. After we lose a loved one, no matter how much we regret, we’re not always going to appreciate every moment. We still forget to take more photos, we still say something we don’t mean, and we still miss a chance to give a hug.
One thing we can do is to be there for the surprises, let them happen, and allow them to show us things. It might come through some color commentary about a pitcher in his groove on a warm night, and it might be to remind us of something that hurts. It might be to show us a memory we’ve relived a million times, while it leaves something behind as it fades away.
Whatever that surprise is, it will be a rest stop on the long drive. And this might be the time it makes us a little wiser, and brings us a little closer to someone, even from impossibly far away.