Early signs of acceptance
SUNDAY, January 3 – Eamonn brings up the subject in the car. ‘Where do you think Mom is right now?’ It’s a tough question. Fortunately, he tries to come up with an answer himself since it is something he and his mother had discussed.
‘Mom believed in reincarnation, didn’t she?’
A difficult word, which he pronounces without a hitch. He also says he understands what it means, my little smart aleck.
‘Yes, Eamonn. And if that’s true, which no one knows for certain, then Mom lives on as a better person, because she was kind, and loving, and because she was a good human being. Don’t you think so?’
‘But she could come back as anything, couldn’t she?
‘Yes, she could. Even an animal.’
‘You know what, Papa. If we ever get another pet, I think we ought to call it Jennifer.’
‘I’m not sure that’s a good idea,’ I say in all honesty.
Later that evening Sander walks into my room. ‘Papa, I just felt something. I know for sure that Mom is still alive.’
‘How do you mean that?’
‘I don’t mean that she’s alive in the same way she used to be, but in a different way. I don’t know how, but she’s still alive.’
‘Is that a scary idea?’
‘Yeah, maybe a little.’
He’s sitting on my bed, explaining the 49 days that must elapse before according to Tibetan belief the deceased is reborn. He believes what he’s saying, forgetting that I was the one explaining it to him before.
‘That’s why I can really feel that she exists again, that she’s alive again. Somewhere.’
‘Isn’t that a wonderful thought?’ I reply.
He agrees with me, although he’s slightly hesitant.
In the meantime Eamonn has also come to the conclusion that it’s a bit silly to name a future pet after his mother. I try to explain that every newborn child is a unique being who is nourished by the good that is done by human beings or animals in a previous life. At least that’s what Jennifer believed.
Silence. I try to steer the conversation back to Jennifer and her belief in Buddhism. This conversation with Eamonn strikes me as a special opportunity, no matter how complicated and confusing it is. My son decides otherwise.
‘Papa, could we change the subject?’
‘Of course, Eamonn.’
Sander wants to add something to our previous conversation.
‘Do you remember that big letter U, the diagram with the different phases of mourning?’ he asks, referring to a sheet of paper that a school counselor had given him a while back. Something to fall back on when he was confused.
‘Yes, I remember.’
‘Well, I think I’m now in the phase of “beginning to accept”. I realize that Mom is dead.’
‘Yes, it’s starting to feel well, maybe not normal, but sort of ‘ordinary’ that now that there are three of us.’
‘It’s funny you should say that, Sander, because yesterday I felt exactly the same. But, we need to be have to be honest with ourselves. It may be a bit too soon for that acceptance.’
Then he starts pointing out all the various things in our house that are different now. For example, he says I don’t straighten up as much as Mom did, because that was how she happened to do things.
‘Okay, okay’, I say, laughing. ‘I get the message.’
I thank him for his positive ideas and give him a kiss.
19.30 – The sweet-and-sour chicken was the first to appear atop the take-away counter, followed by the Beijing duck. Then the noodles and rice. There are plastic containers and huge squares of wrapping paper, from which a plastic bag with shrimp crackers protrudes. Eamonn, who’s crazy about shrimp crackers, reaches for the bag.
Then the waiter adds a tiny bowl of sambal and as the same thought crossed my mind, Sander said, ‘The sambal used to be for Mom.’ We all nodded.
Eamonn suggests that I put some on my noodles. Not on your life, way too spicy for me. Eamonn sees this as a challenge.
‘Shall I try some?’ he says with a grin.
‘Sure. Go ahead.’
We watch as he dips a shrimp cracker into the bowl and takes a bite. His acting talent comes to the fore. His face contracts, he grabs his forehead and pretends that his head is about to explode.
‘Water! Water!’ he groans.
After the first, he takes another spoonful. And another.
Sander and I are impressed. Eamonn feels quite courageous.
‘Yeah, you can tell that I’m just like Mom. It doesn’t even bother me. She would have loved this.’
He was right. Jennifer really would have loved it.
As we continue our meal, I realize that both boys have spoken of their mother in the past perfect tense. Not in the present. I accept this for what it is, but I also discern a tiny gleam of hope which today I grant myself. Is this indeed a form of acceptance?