This week, I am thankful for fall weather and leaves and that Oldest and Middle are big enough now to rake and not only rake, but actually get the leaves curbside where the city’s leaf vacuuming machine will suck them up. I’m thankful for the Tiny and how she smiles at me almost every time she sees me anew, and then some, and how she responds to my voice and does this little laughy cry that sounds like heh heh heh heh when she wants to get some milk.
I’m also thankful for good friends—one A.B.G. who spent time with me last night—and good conversations.
This morning, on my way out the door, Oldest sized me up and with a quizzical expression on her face asked, “Did you already get ready for the day?”
I’m wondering if I have some serious work to do in the Department of Appearances, Social.
Two years ago this fall, I was miserable for a good reason. My brother had died. I didn’t know how to put together all the pieces of myself that seemed to have fallen apart. Even though I love fall, I think of Henry at this time of year simply because of the association of seasons, simply because that when, two years ago, the leaves were falling off the silver maples in the front yard, I stood at the window and cried.
There were many people who condoled, sent cards, visited and cried with me. One was a woman in her forties named Ellen. She was Oldest and Middle’s preschool teacher. She had a master’s degree in education yet chose to spend her time with 3- and 4-year-olds making very little money because she loved kids that much. She was smart and she was nurturing. When she heard somehow that Henry had died, she sent me a card and in it she told me how she’d lost one brother in childhood, another to the attacks of on the World Trade Center. She was part of the constellation of brotherless people I was beginning to map out in my life, and she and I struck up more conversation, more emails, and I found comfort in knowing there was a person like Ellen out in the world—someone who’s integrated loss and grief and continued on to parent her own children well, to give back to the community in life-affirming ways. Since then she’s kept tabs on Oldest and Middle, and came to visit when Tiny was born, bearing gifts for all three children.
On Tuesday of this week I got a call that Ellen had died. No one knows why. She didn’t come to the preschool and she didn’t pick up her own daughters, elementary- and high-school-aged, after school. She was found at home, in bed. Today, I went to her memorial service and found it nearly impossible to tolerate the fact that her daughters have lost their amazing, devoted mother. I cried for them and prayed that these little chickies would somehow be strengthened to move and grow into the women they were already on their way to becoming—strong, life-affirming, and joyful—before their mother slipped away.