One of the things bereaved parents would like you to know is this: Even though they may seem pretty together and functional; even though they smile, though perhaps not very brightly and not for very long; and even though it seems like they are moving on with life, there are many, many things going on inside them that you cannot know about. Things you cannot see; things that it is not possible for you to notice.
For instance, a simple drive into town for groceries can be an emotionally exhausting experience that churns up a lifetime of memories and feelings. You have no way of knowing that, for me, almost every street in the whole city has some sort of memory associated with it. This is comforting, yes, but painful, too. You see me looking out the window at passing cars and buildings. But actually, I am looking for Hans’ car or hoping to see him coming out of a store. Going into Fairbanks for the day is an emotional workout for me.
Imagine if you will, you are with me in the car and we are spending the day shopping and running errands. What you see and what I see as we drive around town are two very different things. We are looking at the same scenery, but we are not seeing the same things.
We pull up to the Safeway gas station and you see pump #1 is available so you stop the car at the pump and hop out to pump the gas.
I, on the other hand, have my gaze fixed on pump #2 and my heart begins to hurt. Pump #2 is where Hans gassed up his car exactly 3 hours and 15 minutes before the crash. I know this because I found the receipt in his jacket pocket: 1/11/16; 02:48:54 PM; 8.126 gal. for $22.18. I imagine him there at pump #2 wearing the black and white jacket and sunglasses, so handsome, happily pumping gas, not knowing he had a little over three hours to live.
I turn away from pump #2 and look straight ahead. You would see a fast food joint, a traffic light, and a couple of scrawny birch trees. But I see something else. Between the Carl’s Jr. sign and the Fred Meyer entrance sign, beyond the scrawny birch trees and the traffic light, I see a funeral home – the very one where I last saw my son’s face.
I shift my eyes to the left. You would see a hotel. I see a hotel, too, one that I know has a very nice restaurant upstairs. I know this because our family has eaten there many times. In fact, Manfred and Hans ate breakfast there often while working on the last house of the season a few months before Hans left us. I know exactly which table they sat at – I can’t seem to take my eyes off this table when we eat there now.
But back to the gas station and the shopping trip. I force my eyes to look beyond pump #2 to the Safeway store itself. You see a grocery store. I see the parking lot in front of it where Manfred and Hans used to sit drinking ice tea on their lunch breaks. This is the parking lot from which they always called me to ask if I needed anything from the store.
I swivel my head a complete 180 degrees. You see another grocery store. I see through the walls of it into the toy department where Manfred and I used to let the children blow off some steam before getting back in the car for the trip home. They had a T.V. and a couple of little chairs in the toy department in those days and that is where I would sit nursing the current infant and then changing the current infant’s diaper behind that rack of clothes where the boys’ clothing department adjoins the toy department. Hans bought a lot of caps for his toy guns here.
Finally, we leave the gas station. We are hungry & decide on pizza and pizza means Geraldo’s over on College Rd. We find a seat and you hear the usual Italian restaurant tunes: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Mel Torme, etc., but without really hearing them. However, right after ordering, my ears pick up on a song I have never heard before. It is Josh Groban’s, “To Where You Are” .
There is no escape. We have already ordered. I try not to listen too closely and start reciting Social Security and bank account numbers in my head to distract myself.
Then, up next is Nat King Cole singing “Smile” (though your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking…)
Why do Italian restaurants play such gut-wrenching music? Do sad people eat more pizza? I am doing pretty well with the SSN’s, managing not to drop a single tear though I am hungry, tired, and ready to go home and just sit in a chair. I try not to look around too much because I see the empty chairs where Hans once sat. The pizza arrives and then we eat and finally get out of there.
Onward to the Co-Op Market to get something to drink. This happens to be where Hans liked to shop for snacks and personal grooming products. Hans was big on personal grooming products. On the way, we pass a closed up mini-mall. You see a dilapidated vacant building. I see the old model store where we bought so many Christmas presents for Hans.
We leave there and the ordeal is nearly finished. We cruise up Airport Way. You see the Two Dice Pawn Shop, Coin King, and a Napa Store. But I see the place where Hans found us a generator when ours was history and we couldn’t afford a new one. I see the laundromat where I washed his baby clothes and where he later pushed his little brothers around in laundry baskets on wheels when he was a boy. I see where he bought parts for our vehicles as a grown up man.
I am exhausted. I look around Fairbanks at peoples’ faces. Some of them look like they are hurting.
I wonder what they are seeing?
The LORD redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate. Psalm 34:22