I wiggle and shimmy the wooden box into the opening, and in the end, my son’s ashes fit snuggly inside my olive colored purse. It’s Valentine’s Day, and the 13th angel-versary of his passing. A few week’s ago my parents invited me to lunch with a casual, “and feel free to bring Shawn along” thrown into the conversation. We’ve had many meals in his honor over the years, and each time we chuckle at our little secret as I set him down in the chair next to mine. We know this is one of those things that some wouldn’t understand.
“Why would she keep his ashes and carry them to a restaurant for lunch? That’s morbid!”
But, I have a philosophy I’ve lived by for as many years as he’s been gone. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of a child. If it brings me comfort, and doesn’t harm me, then it’s a-okay! Shawn’s 11 lb box of ashes has been hiking with me to Seven Falls, spent the night at various family member’s homes, gone on a field trip to a monastery, and secretly sat in a dining chair at countless restaurants for lunch and dinner.
Don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t go everywhere with me. Usually it’s once or twice a year when we’re doing something special in remembrance. In the mean time, he sits in his place of honor in my home, with a statue of the baby Jesus that was a favorite of my mom’s before she passed. I imagine my mom and son spend time together on the other side, joined by my late husband and sister, and the family gathering of spirits behind the veil outnumbers our little luncheon for three here on earth.
As I pull into the restaurant parking lot, I notice the flow of silver-haired patrons slowly walking towards the entrance. It’s proving to be a perfect Arizona winter day; an example of why people retire here. The sun is shining and the mountains surrounding the valley look dipped in rich watercolors of wine.
“I’ll park on the other side of the lot and leave the closest spots for people that can’t walk very far. I need the exercise anyway.” I think to myself.
At lunch I order grilled, fresh New Zealand Ora King salmon over a toasted croissant and sautéed spinach. We take our time, enjoying the atmosphere and pampering, until I realize we’ve stayed so long that I’m running late for a happy hour gathering I’m hosting at my home. As I hurry across the parking lot, my brain registers something isn’t right, and I slow down.
“What’s wrong with the side of my SUV? Has that dent always been there? No. No! It’s far too big for me not to notice it before. Oh my gosh, it’s huge! And no one’s here! I’m the victim of a hit and run?!” My thoughts race as I approach my car.
And then I see the little note, flapping in the breeze under my windshield wiper. “I’m very sorry. My phone number is xxx-xxx-xxx.”
I can hear someone calling from the balcony of the restaurant.
“Hello! Ma’am!” He’s waving his arm and directing me over. “Oh, finally! We’ve been waiting for over an hour to see who owned that Landcruiser.”
He explains that they have the car next to mine and saw the accident. He has notes written down that I briefly see as he waves them around and talks about the pictures he took and will send to me. But he’s talking too fast and I struggle to keep up with the flood of information.
“Yep, he hit you so hard it pushed your SUV into our car. We didn’t want to move our car until you came out.”
And that’s when I realize the Landcruiser is smooshed up against another car on the passenger side. Great! Damaged on both sides and a third car is involved!
He tells me that the person responsible is from the Congo. “He’s a dishwasher at the restaurant. He’s only been in the U.S. for a month, and hasn’t been driving for very long. He says his brakes went out. He has insurance, but it’s probably very minimal.”
My mind goes back to my time in Africa. A refugee from the Congo… oh, no. I’m torn between compassion for this refugee I have yet to meet, who must be frightened by this experience, and my own frustration. Suddenly, the accident is put into perspective. My afternoon was spent dining at a 5-star restaurant, which I drove to in my luxury SUV. Meanwhile, he’s washing dishes, in a foreign country, in order to escape a history that I can only imagine based on my travels. My heart breaks at what must have gone through the man’s mind when he hit my car.
The next hour is a bit of a blur as information is exchanged and the restaurant manager introduces me to a 30-something man named “Bahati” (name changed for privacy). He has kind, shy eyes, and does his best to apologize in his broken english.
“It’s okay. These things happen,” I say with as genuine a smile as I can. I place my hand on his shoulder for a brief moment, hoping he understands that I’m not angry.
Eventually, it’s time to leave and I crawl over the passenger side since my driver’s door no longer opens. Shawn’s ashes sit beside me, and I ask him to watch over Mama.
I’ve taken my time posting this story to my blog. Many decisions needed to be made as the ripple effects of this accident played out and I wanted to be able to share the end results. The Landcruiser is considered totaled; worth more than Bahati’s insurance limits can pay. I’ve purchased a new car. A Honda HR-V that I absolutely love.
No, my new car can’t tow Sarandipity, my trailer. I was forced to do some soul searching when choosing this next vehicle. Do I base my decision on whether or not it can tow a trailer? How badly do I want to keep Sarandipity and how much traveling in the trailer will I do in the future? If I were to buy my dream car, what would it be?
In the end, I listened to what my inner voice was saying. The trailer served it’s purpose. It gave me a wonderful distraction during my cancer treatments. I would show up at the cancer center daily, and whittle away the hours of chemo planning my new life as a solo, full-time RVer. It was exciting to think about this new adventure in my life.
But, I no longer need that. I’m enjoying being settled in my old home, fixing it up while keeping my new minimalist lifestyle. And so, I’ll be selling my trailer soon. I have several trips planned in the next few months that will feed my traveling soul, but I’ll be going by plane and staying in hotels. I love change and try to find the blessings that are hidden in every challenge, and this experience has reminded me to practice this belief. Part of life’s beauty is it’s unpredictable nature.
I’m thinking of contacting Bahati, and taking him out to lunch. Not where he works, but, some place just as lovely. I have a feeling he has stories that would be an honor to hear. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, one of the most beautiful things to come of this will be a new friend.