A friend lets go of her walker and slowly backs into the passenger seat of my car.
“I’m all catawampus,” she says, after she lands slumped at an awkward angle and I try to adjust the seatbelt around her.
“What a great word,” I say, thinking that’s exactly how I feel sometimes. Especially in the holiday season when everyone else is dashing out to go shopping while I sit home hugging my dog. My friends are making toasts over Thanksgiving and I can only think of my Uncle Martin who just died. I’m out of kilter. Catawampus.
“You got through all of your troubles,” says my Aunt Bope, days later, at the gathering after her husband’s funeral. At the cemetery, family and friends had taken turns shoveling soil into the grave. I’d watched her high heels sink into the soggy ground as my cousin helped her lift the shovel.
“You will too. You’re strong,” I say over a plate of fruit salad and rainbow cookies. She shakes her head, no. I look into her eyes that are so like my own. “We both are,” I insist, pointing out that her mother, my Omi Rosie, was the strongest person we ever knew. But I wonder how she will get over this. She was happily married to Martin for 66 years, over 2/3 of her lifetime. The 20-year-old daughter I lost was with me barely 1/3 of my time. That’s been hard enough.
“You’re young,” she says. “It’s different.”
I look at my feet and don’t know what to say. I do feel young. Now. But I remember how unsteadily I walked on the frozen mud when my daughter died. The ground was uneven and ungiving. Back then I couldn’t find enough to hold onto and did not want to face another day.
To my Aunt Bope … to the friend of a friend who recently lost a daughter … to another dear one who wonders how her world disintegrated … to all of us who carry sadness during a season that is shocked by bright lights and raucous cheer, I just want to say:
Do not think your life is over or that you will never laugh again. The pain of loss will soften. Life will not always be catawampus.
I look down, speechless before my aunt. That’s when I notice —
“Stay strong. Take care of yourself. And eat,” I say, feeling less worried.
— My Aunt Bope is still wearing her heels.