“Je ne sais pas.”
Last night, I said it no less than fifteen times to my thirteen year old son.
I. Don’t. Know.
At the time, I was trying to get rid of a headache by resting in his room with his younger brothers’ stuffed rooster on my forehead. He said: “Mom. You have no idea how weird you are.” I thought, “Surely I am not the only middle-aged mother lying down right now. Somewhere, another mom is trying to muster energy to find something to eat before getting a kid to his swim lesson.” He did have a point about the stuffed rooster though.
Just before his “you are so weird” comment, I’d been thinking about a young woman from Mass the previous Sunday. I didn’t recognize her but, when we exchanged a sign of peace, she said, “You’re Carol’s daughter, right?” I said yes. Calmly. Without huge waves of remorse, guilt, sadness, pain, tears, dry mouth or sinus pressure. Just, “Yes, I’m Kate and Carol’s my mom.”
Three springs ago my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer and died in the following August. I’m fairly sure that this young woman was a student worker in my mother’s theatre costume shop. But then, they may have volunteered together at the soup kitchen. Je ne sais pas. I don’t know.
I’ll tell you what I believe at this stage of the game: There is little point in trying to control the effects of intense grief. My three sons have been a fortunate distraction from the pain of watching my mother suffer and letting her go. But nothing—no amount of busyness or radical love for my family – has succeeded in getting me to this point. At first, I thought of her nearly every minute of every day. I sometimes still see her, feel her, smell her at every turn. She is in her art, her handwriting, a bird in the yard, a song on the radio, the smell of pot roast – the list is long and often surprising and strange. Sometimes that stinks. Sometimes it feels great.
I think my mother would support me in saying over and over again: Je ne sais pas. There’s freedom in saying “I don’t know” to this whatever “this” is: “When can I get contacts mom?” or “Can I fix my godsons’ sadness?” or “Where in the world do I know that young lady from and how does she know my mother’s name?”
So, how am I coping three years later?
Je ne sais pas.
What I realized that Sunday a few weeks ago is that I finally arrived to this gentler type of grief on the wings of ordinary life. My mom taught me to trust everyday grace more than any other force in my life. So, I’m guessing that it’s okay to see the Holy Spirit in a muddy toad and pesky questions and, sometimes, faking sleep with a stuffed rooster on my head is as good a solution as any.