Do you suppose this is true?? I am purposely pondering this possibility because … I don’t even know the man. I do know who he is, though. And because we have lived in the same small, rural community for the past quarter of a century, I have seen him out and about every now and again. That said, I don’t think we have ever spoken to one another.
Well … that is not really true. I did have some very brief engagements over the telephone with him about 30 years ago, in the form of requests … but certainly not enough connection to confirm any sense of familiarity with the man. I did sense, however, that the last time we spoke on the phone he was somewhat frustrated with me.
Most perplexingly, though … over the summer months in 2019 … our paths seemed to crossing with increased frequency. So much so that it had registered on my radar as ‘odd’. I even started to consciously question why on earth I was seeing this man so often?? And then … one day when I was out walking with my Bestie … there he was again! We wandered past him in the large empty parking lot of the Community Centre that we were cutting through on our walk. He was on his phone … not a single car or other person in the vicinity. Huh??
We started chatting about whether or not these chance encounters meant ‘something’ and/or whether the Universe was tossing him onto my path for some reason. And, because my best friend and I are both INFJ (on the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator) we love nothing more than to overthink and overanalyse things. We are quick to explore any and all topics with endless enthusiasm … and … from absolutely every possible angle and/or perspective. And so, this conversation was no exception as we thoroughly scrutinized the various beliefs we were aware of that were publicly posited about the nature of coincidence and synchronicity.
As my Bestie and I considered whether these encounters were, in fact, trying to bring my attention to a particular facet of my life, I recalled that this man was the Property Manager of a subsidized housing complex that my ailing mother inhabited three decades ago. Way back then … and half my lifetime ago … I was 31 years old and lived on a farm in a tiny town about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from my Mom’s place with my husband and three small daughters. Due to the geographical distance between her and I, it was difficult for me to see her or check-in on her in person as often as I would have preferred.
You should know that my mom’s well-being was always a source of concern for me because for all of my life (and I do mean all of it) she experienced ill health. She had struggled with debilitating sciatic pain for the bulk of her existence despite numerous unsuccessful medical interventions and invasive surgeries attempted to relieve her pain. I was only nine months old when she underwent her first major surgery. She was returned to me in a hard, cold body cast … but the pain continued. I remember that Darvon and Valium were very critical mainstays in her existence. She even opted to endure an intrusive brain cordotomy in my late twenties that I can’t be sure ever dulled the pain, but … she came home using a wheelchair.
She also had a hereditary disease called Gardner’s Syndrome that caused polyps/tumors to grow in her intestinal tract. They had a risk of being malignant but could also be benign. Nonetheless, these growths would often lead to painful blockages. She vomited often. There was always a plastic bowl tucked under her bed in case her stomach got upset. Ultimately, they had to remove a large part of her colon and she lived with a colostomy bag afterwards. And, if that wasn’t enough, she had also been diagnosed with breast cancer and endured a double mastectomy.
Along the way, she had also been diagnosed with manic-depression (which is now known as Bipolar Disorder). Unfortunately, the various psychotropic medications they used way back in the day were not nearly as effective and led to all manner of side effects for my Mom. It often seemed to me that they did more harm than good. And, although it feels less than flattering to admit … as a result of all her physical and emotional challenges, she was consuming so many pain medications and mood altering pharmaceuticals that her capacity to engage competently and soberly in the world was often compromised. Through it all, she spent a whole lot of time in hospitals … both medical and psychiatric.
My mom was not one to complain though. I think she down-played how awful she felt in an attempt to spare me and minimize my worry. She isolated herself quite often. She spent many days/weeks/months alone in her bedroom. She said she preferred to be by herself when she was ailing. And as a result, it was really hard to determine just how poorly she was actually feeling. And so … I worried a whole lot about her. Some days were better than others, but my anxious mind rarely set her down. She did her very best to take care of me. She really did. And, all things considered, she did a pretty remarkable job. It’s just that her physical and psychological capacity was so compromised that I had to learn how to take care of me … as well as her … in many ways.
When I got married at 19 and moved out of the house, I tried to stay in regular contact with her by telephone. Unfortunately, sometimes she didn’t answer. Sleep was unpredictable and elusive for her due to chronic and debilitating pain and when she thought she could get some rest, she would turn the ringer off the phone so as not to be disturbed. If I got no answer, I would assume she was catching some much needed shut eye, leave a message and wait to hear back from her. It was an ongoing pattern that had become part of our routine. And so, if a couple of days had gone by and I had not received a call back from her, I would just try to squelch my concerns until I had the opportunity to check-in on her in person. And, because I was an only child, there was no one else to ask for help in tending to her. It all fell on me.
The truth was that by the time I had three children of my own, I was stretched too far and too thin to be as attentive as I wish I could have been. And so … I vacillated between feeling guilty for my absence and resentful for the unrelenting worry that was ever present during those in-between times.
And when I would check-in on her, it was rare for me to find her in any really emergent situation. However, I do remember a time when I arrived to find that she had fallen and was unable to get up. There was an odd occasion when I discovered her to be so ill that she needed hospitalization. More frequently, there were times when I came upon her in a highly sedated and/or compromised state of mind. Yes. Sometimes she took too much medication. I never knew if it was on purpose or by accident. Suffice to say, there was just never any way to be sure how she would be when I got there.
For a time she had lived in an extended care facility. This was such a huge relief for me because I knew someone was always watching out for her. But … she absolutely HATED it there! She despised sharing a room with someone else and begged for us to let her move out. And so, although it against my better judgment for her to be living alone, we reluctantly honored her preference. And then … it was all on me again. Gah.
And, since it was a 60km round trip for me to look in on her in person, it occurred to me that I might be able to ask the property manager to stop in, on rare occasion, when my worries escalated and I couldn’t find a way to get there in a timely fashion myself. And so, I found myself calling him on a few occasions. Maybe three?? I can’t really remember, but I know I always apologized profusely for troubling him. I tried to explain that my request was fostered by my heartfelt concern for my Mom. The first couple of times he checked on her, she called me back apologetically. I could hear in her voice that she was embarrassed and expressed sincere regret for causing me such worry. And, although I felt guilty for inconveniencing him unnecessarily, it was such a relief to be reassured that she was okay.
I believe the last time I called him … was a couple of days after Christmas in 1989. She had phoned our house at about 2:00am on December 25th to tell us that we need not pick her up to celebrate Christmas because she was not well enough to come out to the farm. It wasn’t at all unusual for her to call and beg off attending functions because she felt ill. It was, however, a bit unusual for her to call in the middle of the night … but my husband had answered the phone … so I hadn’t actually spoken with her myself. I was reasoning to myself that she must have lost track of time or had taken some meds and was hoping she would finally fall asleep. There were also occasions that she really gave it her best attempt to attend, but then by they time she got to our house she’d need to concede that she wasn’t really up for it after all … and we’d have to turn around take her back home again right away.
My mom was on my mind as I tried to stay present to the squeals of delight and joy in my daughters eyes as they tore at the wrapping on their Christmas gifts. I tried to call her once the sun was up, but got no answer. I tried to call her a little later during the day. Still … no answer. This wasn’t entirely unusual, so I tried to call her again on Boxing Day. No answer. And then, as my worries intensified, I dared to call the Property Manager again. I apologized profusely once more … but humbly asked if he might spare me the 60km round trip and check on her for me. I could sense his frustration … and honestly … I completely understood it. He’d been there a couple times before … for no reason. He was probably trying to enjoy the Holiday season with his own family, but … he was kind enough to agree to check on her when he had a chance.
And then … I waited. I was trying to be patient, but my Mom never called me back and neither did the Property Manager. I questioned whether he maybe hadn’t found the opportunity to check on her yet. I really didn’t want to pester him during the Holidays by calling again. I was really looking forward to a commitment I had to go out of town that day … the 27th of December. It was a rare treat for me to go anywhere without my three little girls in tow, and I had plans with a girlfriend and would be leaving my hubby at home with my daughters. We didn’t have cell phones way back then, so I was reassuring myself that my hubby would be getting the call while I was out … confirming that all was well … just like all the other times that Mom had rallied back from some really bad days.
And, while I was out, my husband finally did hear back. Yes. The RCMP arrived at our door to inform us that she was, in fact, not fine. No. She had really and truly … died. I had braced myself for her passing on prior occasions when things seemed really dire … and … if the truth was to be fully told … I had also wished for an end to her suffering on more than one occasion. So, I am not sure why I felt so blindsided by the news … except that she had always escaped death … until then.
I swallowed hard. I sat up in the night with tear-filled blurry eyes watching the mini-lights twinkle on the Christmas tree in the darkness … silently trying to figure out how to tell my young daughters that their Gram was gone. They were just nine, seven and almost three at the time.
And then, somewhere in the midst of it all, there was a part of me that was deeply relieved. For both me and her. There was a part of me that sighed a breath of surrender, knowing that she was no longer suffering in a bedroom all by herself … and … that I would no longer be anxiously waiting for call backs. The autopsy suggested she likely died within 24 hours after she called our house. I have always secretly wondered if she had a premonition that night that ‘this was it’. Maybe that is why is she called at 2:00am? Or … maybe she thought she’d rally back again from this bad spell too? It’s one of the many things I will never get to know …
I’ve had to battle the guilt that rears up and says I would have sensed the situation was exceptionally dire if I had spoken to her myself when she called. There is a part of me that blames myself … maybe I might have cued into the gravity of the situation if I had heard her with my own ears? It’s not that I am blaming my husband. No, I’m not … but it has been a challenge to manage the self-blame and regret that I didn’t get up and call her back, right then and there at 2:00am on December 25th, 1989.
Because we didn’t find out that Mom was gone until Dec 27th, there was some urgency for me to go through all her things and empty her apartment and clean it all up so that management could rent it out to the next person on the wait-list for January 1990. It was really rough. There was no time for mourning. No opportunity to feel into the grief. My head took over and my heart was silenced. You just do what you have to do, don’t you? Fortunately, three of our friends rallied to help us collect all her things and clear her suite. I owe a deep sense of gratitude to one of our friends for thinking to strip the bedding … to clear the space where she actually took her last breath. He spared me. It would have been excruciating to tackle that myself. And, I am also indebted to another of our friends for offering to go through her purses for me. He spared me the horror of needing to face that unfathomable reality so soon. Yes. They spared me some of the hardest bits and my heart has always been eternally grateful to them.
We laid my Mom to rest on Saturday, December 30th. It was a very small group. Forty three people joined us at 11:00am to honor the life of my Mom. My little girls were so saddened that Gram didn’t get to open our Christmas presents for her that year so, we tucked all her gifts into the casket. I’m not sure why, but it still makes me weep when I think about it. I worried that losing their grandmother during Christmas might taint the joys of the Season in the future for my impressionable daughters … so I asked the Clergy to invite my little girls to see ever-green trees as reminders of their Gram’s ever-present love for them.
I really didn’t want the grievous loss to overshadow the celebrations of the Season for my daughters, so the day after the funeral, a group of our very closest friends offered to help us ring in the New Year. They committed themselves to help us look towards the future rather than get lost in the recent past. I will be ever grateful to all of them for that. Unfortunately, however, the typical greeting right after Christmas is always: “Happy New Year! How was your Christmas?” Gah. I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable by speaking directly to the truth … so I quickly learned to sidestep their enthusiastic curiosity by saying something like “It wasn’t what we expected. How about you? ” I instinctively tried to turn the conversation away from our loss. And, as a result, there seemed to be no appropriate time to sit with my pain.
Much of that time remains a blur. And, as I said, there was little time to mourn. So much had transpired in roughly a week or two, albeit with some really long days. And, ultimately, my grieving continued to be shuttered and stalled and silenced in order to spare my little daughters from worrying about their own momma’s well-being. I knew, too well, what it felt like to be saddled with worry about your mother … so I distracted myself and stuffed my feelings until I could take my grief out for a walk and spill my tears behind some sunglasses.
And then, even as the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months and people had heard about what happened … it still wasn’t discussed. I’m not even sure if I ever found the space or gave myself permission to feel all the feels that were really needed to fully honor the loss of my Mom. I’m recognizing as I write this that I am actually just getting present to some of them now. Yes. As I pen this blog, I notice an emotional ache rising within me that I didn’t even know was there.
And perhaps that is why it never even occurred to me until I was walking with my Bestie that the Property Manager had also spared me from the biggest traumatic experience of them all. I can’t know for sure because I have never spoken to him, but I am guessing that he was the one who discovered my Mom’s lifeless body. And, I hate to admit it, but in the avoidance of all things related to her death, it had never even occurred to me that this could very likely have been a very traumatic experience for him. Gah.
As my Bestie and I logged more kilometers along our path that day, my heart swelled open to this man and the way he had spared me the additional trauma of finding my mom’s corpse. I am not sure how I would have fared in life … if … I had been the one to discover my mom’s lifeless body. It makes me shudder at the mere thought of it.
Of course, I can’t know what the experience was like for the Property Manager. At the very least, I expect my call changed the trajectory of his Holiday Season too. And, at the worst, I realize that I obliviously set him up for a potentially traumatic discovery. And, I am praying that he has not carried scars of his own as a result of this. And, as I was awakened to this new perspective, I felt a sense of shame-filled curiosity about how on earth this awareness could have escaped me for almost three decades!?!
As my Bestie and I talked about all of it, I began to think about all the times I had crossed his path and never spoken to him. We wondered aloud about whether or not he knows it was me who made those calls to him so long ago. If so, I find myself questioning whether he thinks it odd, too, that we have never discussed this epic event …
I owe my deepest gratitude to this man … this man who I do not know … this man that I have not spoken to for almost 30 years. While I have been awakened to how deeply appreciative I feel for his kindness in heeding my call for help, I am also realizing I owe him an apology. I am so deeply sorry for any personal distress or emotional disturbance he may have been forced to endure as a result of honoring my request.
Yes. This awareness lands very uncomfortably in my soul. Perhaps this is why the Universe was persistent in placing us before each other? I cannot be sure of that … but I am very clear that I have some unfinished business with the Property Manager. At the risk of repeating myself, he was clearly a gift offered to protect me and spare me significant trauma. I owe it to him to express my appreciation along with my regret for not doing so earlier … as well as my compassion for what he might have experienced as a result of my request.
This Christmas marks the 30th anniversary of my mom’s passing. Thirty years! I found myself thinking that the next time we cross paths, I should approach him with my new found insight and empathy. I even found myself questioning whether it might be wiser to simply orchestrate a time to meet him so I might express both my gratitude and my regret. I knew I must not waste any more minutes, days, weeks, years or decades before honoring all of this. Honoring the man who spared me, honoring the friends who supported me … and … honoring the woman that birthed me.
And, this blog has taken me to places in my grief that I never expected to visit. I find myself wondering if I ever really knew my Mom? I wonder what the hardest parts of her life were? Was it her five miscarriages? Was it her lost connection with family due to Estate issues? Was it losing her marriage in an effort to invite my Dad to embrace sobriety? How did the deaths of four of her six siblings impact her? I wonder about where she got her resilience? I wonder what kept her fighting for a life that was so filled with suffering? And because she never complained, I question whether all of her unspoken and internalized suffering simply exacerbated her ill health? I am left with so many questions about this remarkable soul … my loving Mom.
And so … I started this blog out of my curiosity about whether my chance meetings with the Property Manager were random. And with each word, I have become acutely aware that were it not for the ‘chance’ meetings of that man that I do not know, I may never have taken this opportunity to honor all the things left unspoken … both with him and with my relationship with my mom.
It appears that those coincidental meetings have sparked some additional healing for me because they inspired these ramblings. Writing always help me get clear about what I am thinking and feeling, but I would never have expected that what started as an exploration about synchronicity would touch tenderly into the ache of a grief/loss that has been largely disregarded for almost thirty years. And so, it appears the Property Manager has spared me once again. As a result of these reflections, I will not be carrying my unspoken and unreconciled grief for another 30 years.
And so, with this blog, the need for me to speak to him landed more and more loudly in my awareness … even though I had no sense of how that would happen. And, coincidentally (or not?), I had no sooner come to what I thought was the completion of this blog, when I unexpectedly crossed paths with the Property Manager again at a community event!
I immediately thought … here’s my chance … the Universe is orchestrating an opportunity for me to speak to him right here and now. I was tempted to ask him if I could have a few minutes of his time after the presentation was complete. But then … it occurred to me that it might not be wise to unexpectedly blindside him with all of this at a public function. It occurred to me that standing before him with my both my apology and my appreciation might put him in an uncomfortable position … and/or … stir up some unwelcome memories. So, I opted not to say anything to him then. I decided, instead, that I would email him this blog instead. And that is exactly what I am going to do once I publish this.
It is my hope that my sentiments will be welcomed and received by the Property Manager with the benevolent energy within which they are offered. And, it is also my hope that by honoring and acknowledging all of this, I will be able to honor the 30th anniversary of my Mom’s death in just a few weeks with some additional peace and resolution in my own heart.
I would like nothing more than to think that perhaps these synchronicities and the heartfelt reflections I have offered in this blog could be a gift that was divinely inspired for both of us. Perhaps a welcome exchange for both of us. Fingers crossed …
With gratitude for the gifts in all this awareness … with gratitude for the space created to honor all that has not yet been spoken … and … with deepest gratitude for all the many ways I have been spared … Karen