Shattered and Fragile, Though Not Completely DestroyedBy Emma Pearson
November 30, 2023
28 August 2019
I had one of those experiences today that remind me of the fragility, the tenuous-ness of my well-being, my composure and stability. The experience made me cry, and cry hard.
Sometimes I think I don’t cry enough. I probably don’t. I’ve never been much of a crier. I know how and when most of my grief-related crying happens. It’s either triggered by something “mundane” (a song, place, comment, memory, calendar date, food, drink, film, story, person, photo, smell, taste, etc). The mundane are pretty common, it has to be said. Along with the trigger, I usually also need to be somewhere quiet or dark and maybe alone, or at least with “safe people”. I cry best (yes – really – I know how I cry best) if I have started crying alone before the sanctity of my crying space is invaded. If it is, I can carry on if the space invader is a “safe person”. If not, I will stop. It’s not that I feel any shame with crying, I just need certain conditions to allow it to ripen fully.
Alternatively, I will cry if I have an overwhelming experience. A one-off. A juggernaut of a beast barging into my path that I just don’t see coming.
This morning, as I accompanied Megan from the hotel we had stayed at near her new university, to her accommodation, each of us dragging two suitcases, I had a beastly juggernaut experience. We only had to do a 10-15 minute walk but it was not a lot of fun; three sides of a square because of blocked off areas. Megan spied a potential short cut through a car park and wondered, if we take it, perhaps we cut off a bit of the walk? It was worth a try.
We started to cut across and weave our way through rows and rows of parked cars. I was a little bit in front of her, and headed to the car park exit, dragging two wheelie-bin suitcases over rough tarmac mixed with gravel. Wheelie bin cases make a lot of noise. Megan asked me to take the heavier one of the two big ones and I got my head down, gritted my teeth, and got on with the job.
I got to the car park exit and turned around. No Megan.
I waited, my eyes swivelling 360-degrees. No Megan.
I walked to a different spot so I could see back over the the path I had taken, between all the cars. Still no Megan.
I felt the panic rising. Where the heck was she? How can she be lost in a car park? Where on earth has she gone? She’s taller than a car… why can’t I see her?
I left the two suitcases at the unoccupied payment booth and retraced my steps, panicking properly now. Scenarios quickly forming in my head. Heart attack? Stroke? Hit by a car?
I couldn’t understand how she had just disappeared. It was a big car park but not so big that I couldn’t see each end clearly. I just walked faster and faster, calling then yelling and finally screaming her name. “MEGAN!! Where are you?!”
Finally as I was level with the point that we had come in at, I heard her yell, “Mum! Emma!” She likes to say both, with minimal space in between. She maintains I only respond when she says “Emma”. (Mike and I brought up the kids to call out our first names, rather than “Mum” or “Dad”, if ever they lost sight of us in a busy, public space).
I caught sight of Megan, who had found an even better cut through to her new apartment block and was waiting patiently for me. Both of us out of sight to the other. I gave her a thumbs up to show her I’d spotted her, and gestured to where I’d left the cases. I walked quickly to the bags, overwhelmed with the relief of seeing her, seeing her standing there, alive and well.
As I went to fetch the luggage, I started to sob. I scooped the handles of the two cases and dragged them back in her direction. She was patiently waiting for me, still bemused as to how I hadn’t seen or heard her as she went off in a different direction. Not anxious. Just mildly perplexed. No sign of panic on her. After all, she is 18, and an 18-year old doesn’t panic when they lose sight of their mum for a few minutes.
I couldn’t stop my sobby crying. I don’t mind crying in front of the kids. I don’t do it often, and when I do cry, I don’t make myself stop. Today I couldn’t have made myself stop if I’d tried.
When we caught back up with each other, I was still sobbing loudly. She saw it and became the mother to the mum. “Aw, mum – you’re crying”. Voice cracking, I choked, “Megan – I couldn’t see you. I thought I lost you. I thought something had happened. I was so scared. I can’t lose you. I cannot lose another child!”.
Megan comforted me competently, aware that this was not a situation where gentle mocking was in order. We did what we had to do: dropped off her cases, greeted some fellow students. All the while I kept my sunglasses on indoors. I don’t mind crying in front of my kids, but they do mind me crying in front of them, and most definitely, they mind me crying in front of prospective new friends.
And my mind processed what had happened.
Since when did I panic when I couldn’t see one of my kids for a few minutes? Not for 10+ years.
Since when did I burst into uncontrollable sobs when I caught sight of one of my kids after a shock? Only in the last year or two.
Since when did I exclaim, “I cannot lose another child!” to one of my kids? Only in the last 2 months.
It’s not a normal thing, to panic when your competent, confident, healthy, off-to-university 18-year old disappears for a few minutes.
It’s not a normal thing for one’s mind to spin through myriad terrifying scenarios when your almost adult child chooses their own route across a car park.
It’s not a normal thing to imagine that your child might have keeled over from a heart attack, or had a stroke, when they are just aged 18. Unless they have lost their dad to pancreatic cancer and are a carrier of a defective gene predisposing them to various potential nasties.
It’s not a normal thing to cry loudly in front of your child unless you feel you’re on the verge of more loss.
Loss that would most definitely tip the balance from Shattered and Fragile to Totally Destroyed.
None of this is normal. But the losses are real.
Another one and I would be totally destroyed.