Someone in the women’s dialogue I belong to made a suggestion of an exercise we could do in between our monthly meet-ups: make a list of 20 people that have loved you. Not necessarily the ones you know love you, but the ones you have felt loved by.
I quickly, mentally ticked off the obvious handful of people, feeling blessed to have known the adoring love of my children when they were little, to have found the love of my life in my second marriage, to have received the sense of wonder that my father had for me and each of his children, and to receive the joy of my grandsons today when they run squealing into my arms, But how would I get to twenty? That’s a lot of people.
It wasn’t until the following day that an old memory resurfaced. My cousin Ann was an older teenager when I was a four-year old girl. She carried me around, bought me ice cream and took me to Paragon Amusement Park in a new red dress. She basically made a big deal out of me, which was a big deal because I came from a family of nine kids (there were five us of at the time) where it was easy to get lost in the shuffle.
My standards may be high, but after Ann made the list, I got stuck again. I was asking the hard questions. Who did I feel seen by? Who showed me their love and loved me purely?
And then it hit me hard, and was as if I had awakened to a whole forgotten portion of my life. The mother of my first husband, the grandmother of my sons was like a second mother and a girlfriend all wrapped in one. She died in the summer of 2011.
I cared and I cried when she died, but I had not fully grieved the loss of her. I didn’t want to. I did it extensively when I lost my brothers, Jim and Dan, in 2001. I knew how hard it was and that it wouldn’t change the outcome. I didn’t want to pull out the photos albums or pour over our old letters. I didn’t want to remember how foundational she was in my life. How I cried in her arms when we left Texas and moved to Virginia and she thought it meant I had changed my mind. How, when we both lived in Massachusetts, she bought me a fancy dress because I only wore jeans then. How she taught me about peat moss, how to cut up a chicken and the right way to make tea. She took me on my first “nature walk,” opening up a new way to see the world that became a tradition I passed on.
So I spent the day bawling as memories (and a poem) came forth. I felt the painful fact that my place in her life changed over time after the break up of my marriage. I felt intense gratefulness remembering how she (and my former father-in-law) drove my family members back and forth from the Texas airport in 2001 when my brother Danny, who lived in Texas, was dying.
I don’t like crying, although I did feel better when it finally subsided. I don’t know how I will get through the rest of the exercise. I’ve put it on hold, thinking maybe the benefit has already been met. Maybe it’s time for me to ponder something different, like ‘who have I loved that purely?’