by Deedra Climer
My only son, Joshua Muñoz, 23, died on April 30, 2014 in a motorcycle accident. He was truly a light that shined on all who knew him.
Social gatherings when you’re grieving can be overwhelming, but I looked forward to a day with friends, beers, and a pig on a spit to usher out summer. Over the seventeen months since Joshua died, I’d developed a ritual to help me figure out whether a new person is someone who will pass quickly through my life or someone who can handle a woman who is teary, forgetful and more than a little angry. Grief is not everyone’s cup of tea, after all, and my energy is sparse. It’s only fair to get it out of the way early on.
Here’s what I do: I simply tell them my kid died, then stand back and watch.
Some people avert their eyes and excuse themselves soon after we’ve met. Most try to say something to ease the pain, though it’s never clear whether they’re soothing me or themselves. And, a few stick around, meeting me squarely where I stand in all my grief and brokenness. When that happens, I know I’ve made a new friend.
And so it went as I sat at a wooden picnic table with another woman, chatting, munching and watching the Michigan sun go down over a bean field. We exchanged politenesses and cracked a few jokes. I worked Joshua into a conversation and prepared myself for her reaction.
“When I had my first miscarriage, I wanted to talk about it, too. But people were just dumb.” The woman looked down at a plate overflowing with end-of-summer fare and picked at it with a plastic fork, then added, “I know it doesn’t compare.”
Her two month-old daughter—born after the miscarriage—slept under a pink crocheted blanket between us while I went through my mental index of pithy comments to end uncomfortable conversations before it’s too late.
Only this time, I didn’t want to end the conversation. I felt a sort of sisterhood with the woman beside me at the picnic table. I wanted to console her. And frankly, I thought it did compare. Who is to say that I felt pain any more deeply than she did? Or that my experience of loss was greater, somehow, because of the number of years my son and I shared? Isn’t it just as painful to consider the years she lost? I had kindergarten pictures, birthday cards, Joshua in his cap and gown at graduation. I had memories of going canoeing for his eighteenth birthday and of dropping him off at college. She had memories of possibility lost, the “might have beens” and “what ifs” of the life of a person she would never know.
Suddenly, I was the one looking for the right thing to say. I took a bite of roasted pork and it stuck in my throat. My heart ached for her. “Loss is loss,” I finally said. “There’s not a scale that determines whose is worse. It all sucks.”
The Michigan sun went down behind us, and I felt honored to have shared such a real moment. A moment when my sadness reached out and found another person’s sadness. And I felt a little less alone.
About the Author: Deedra Climer is a Southern writer who’d rather write about race and poverty than sweet tea and magnolias. Born and raised in Memphis, she splits her time between Tennessee and southeast Michigan, where she runs a small organic farm and apiary with her daughter, Claudia, and husband, Bill. Wailing Wall is her first memoir.